“You know why he’s here? He’s not paid or anything. He likes it. He gets off on it. The weirder the crime the more he gets off. And you know what? One day just showing up won’t be enough. One day, we’ll be standing around a body and Sherlock Holmes will be the one that put it there.”
“Why would he do that?”
“’Cause he’s a psychopath, psychopaths get bored.”
Time is complicated. In fact, some would argue that it is really complicated and there would be others who would argue further still that it is extremely complicated. With so many theories buzzing back and forth from one academic to another or from science-fiction nut to fantasy geek, it’s hard to keep track. But the basic facts about time can be boiled down to three things.
There is a past. There is a future. And there is a present – the present being so short that by the time you realise that’s where you are, the moment has gone by and is now stuck firmly in the past.
The future is uncertain, the present is unpredictable and the past is unchangeable – mostly. That was how one theory went…
And as Sherlock stared at the all but perfect reflection of himself, he felt inclined to disagree. Yes, the future was uncertain but if the man before him was anything to go by then the past was not unchangeable.
He just hoped that was a good thing.
Nearly two weeks earlier...
Detective Inspector Lestrade passed under the cordon tape at his latest crime scene and stalked toward the abandoned building up ahead. A construction sign half clung to the metal railing that circled the property but it appeared as though the crew had well and truly given up on the place, and thus, it had fallen into disrepair. Boarded up windows and doors, the interior just as dreary – empty and drab, bare wooden flooring throughout and walls stripped down to the plaster.
The average abandoned house. Only it wasn’t.
Now, Lestrade had seen his fair share of crime scenes. He had seen a lot of violent and bloody deaths. In fact, he had been fairly sure that nothing else could have surprised him anymore than what he had already seen. He had been fairly sure he had seen it all. That was until he entered the living area of 237 Haverstock Hill at eight A.M. that cold Thursday.
Living room, he thought to himself wryly. Why do they call it a living room?
When he had rolled out of bed three hours earlier, he had not been expecting this. He hadn’t thought he would be spending the rest of his morning picking through the remains of… of whoever the bloody mess was.
“What have we got?” he asked, blue suit donned and eyes roaming over the crime scene. Had he been able to, he would have avoided looking but such behaviour was hardly appropriate for someone in his position.
Sergeant Donovan looked down at her notes, her voice as level as it could be considering things. “Unknown victim. Passersby reported unusual noises from inside. Given the state of the property, they thought squatters had moved in.”
Lestrade glanced around the room once more, taking in the bloodstains that coated the walls and flooring, along with the bits and pieces strewn here and there. If he stared long enough, he could just about recognise what those pieces were – a finger, an ear, a tooth…
“And did they see anyone enter or leave the house?” he asked.
Donovan shook her head, tugging at her lip with her teeth, uncertainty lining her features.
“What is it, Donovan?” he probed, tone impatient. It was going to be a long day, he could feel it.
She cast a glance toward the mess once more before focusing back on her notes. “Well, the place was shut down tight when the first officers arrived. They said they couldn’t figure out how the poor sod got inside in the first place.”
Lestrade huffed out and scrubbed a hand across his forehead. “So we’re dealing with a phantom?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say a phantom, Sir… but we’re definitely dealing with something strange.”
One week later, 237 Haverstock Hill was still again. The twilight air rippled and hummed. The place was empty, the remains of the police cordon tape clinging to the fence of the property outside. A patrol car parked up, the men inside doing a quick sweep of the area with their eyes, before pulling away again.
All was well.
Until the air no longer rippled and hummed but cracked and buzzed. Five doors down, a German Shepherd began to bark. Two doors down from that, a Jack Russell joined in.
Then the night fell still once more but the dogs barked on.
All was no longer well and a darkened figure emerged from the splintered doorway, stepping out into the summer air.
The first body was discovered several hours later. Melissa Hardy had been on her way home from the nightshift when the stranger had approached her from behind. He slit her throat, lowered her slowly to the ground and watched as she bled out.
The second victim was found in his home. Greg Mathers. Overdosed on the kitchen floor – a needle discarded on the tile beside him. Cocaine, the autopsy ruled. Yet the man had never touched a drug in his entire life.
The third victim came on the evening of the 15th, just over a week after the mess at Haverstock Hill. The August air was hot and sticky, the sky still tinged with lightened blue. It was when this death hit the morning news that Sherlock knew something was amiss. It was when this death hit the morning news that he contacted Lestrade.
Unaware of the happenings at Haverstock Hill or of Sherlock’s texts to Lestrade, John Watson made his way down the stairs from his room. A headache was beginning to form just behind his eyes. He blamed the alcohol. It had been awhile since he had drunk anything that substantial and he doubted he would be doing it again anytime soon.
A yawn on his lips and a hand brushing through his tawny hair, he pushed his way through the door and into the living area where his dark-haired flatmate sat at the table, attention focused on the netbook before him
“Mornin’,” John called out, another yawn taking hold and claiming the last syllable for itself.
Sherlock looked up from the screen, eyebrow raised as his eyes considered the doctor briefly. “Good night, last night?”
“Yes, actually,” John answered, already moving into the kitchen. He had bumped into an old college friend the day before and had ended up heading out for a catch up on the evening – drinks at the Fox & Hound. It made a nice change from his usual evenings of chasing criminals across London or having his patience tested by the great Sherlock Holmes.
One hand reached out to set the kettle to boil and the other reached for the bread which should have been precisely where his fingertips found empty air. He looked up in case he had misjudged the distance and his brow burrowed. “Where’s the bread?”
A quick survey of the kitchen came up empty. It was suffering from a distinct lack of bread. But there had been bread. He had bought it yesterday. He remembered it clearly.
“Sherlock,” he called, turning back to the living area where said flatmate had returned his gaze to the screen of the netbook. “Where’s the bread?”
“Hmm?” Pale eyes met John’s briefly, nimble fingers stilling.
“The bread, Sherlock.”
“Oh, yes.” And then those pale eyes fell away once more, those fingers deftly working at the keyboard splayed beneath them. “There was an accident.”
John glanced back into the kitchen, the word ‘right’ settling on his lips briefly. He half expected to see the result of a fire, blackened walls and ceiling, or perhaps even evidence of a flood. With the amount of other accidents the kitchen had seen, it was only a matter of time before Sherlock flooded the place.
“An accident,” John repeated out loud, again looking to Sherlock. “What kind of accident?”
Sherlock churned his lips and shrugged his shoulders lightly, as if the whole thing was nothing. And John knew, to the dark-haired man, it probably was. “Chemicals and such. I managed to save the eyeballs but the bread wasn’t so lucky,” he said, tone distracted and attention still focused on the netbook.
“Great… well, it’s nice to see where your priorities lie.” John let go of a deep breath and headed back to the kettle, adding under his breath, “Not that I can have eyeballs for breakfast…”
And in the back of his mind, a smaller voice added, Not that eyeballs should even be in the conversation at breakfast in the first place.
In the end, he checked the milk and settled for Cornflakes instead. Then, armed with his cup of tea and cereal, he joined Sherlock at the table. A beat of silence passed before Sherlock spoke again.
“You weren’t out late.”
John frowned and chewed at the spoonful of flakes he had just shoved into his mouth. He shook his head minutely. “Nope.”
- “And you came home alone.”
“Yes, yes I did. How very observant of you.” An amused smile flitted across John’s face and he filled his spoon once more, watching as the flakes soaked up the milk.
“You could have come, you know,” he said after he’d swallowed the spoonful.
Sherlock scrunched up his nose and shook his head, the very idea of a ‘lads’ night out’ seeming positively offensive to him. “A waste of time.”
“It’s called being social, Sherlock. It’s something us mere mortals do often.”
“Yes, so I’ve noticed,” the detective murmured before adding, “You may want to leave the rest of your breakfast.”
John frowned. “Why?”
“Because we’re going to see a man about a murder.” He turned the screen of the netbook to face John, several windows opened on top of each other – news articles from the past few days. “I assume you’ve been paying attention to the goings on around you during your ‘being social’?”
Ignoring the jibe, John reached out a hand and played at the keyboard, hopping through the windows and reading the headlines. “You’re saying all of these are related?”
The netbook was pulled away from him, the lid snapped shut as Sherlock lurched to his feet. He was already halfway into his coat before he answered John’s question. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“I don’t know how...” John grumbled under his breath, but his body was already moving of its own accord – pushing away from the table to search for his own coat. “It’s too early for this.”
“Nonsense – it’s never too early for a good murder.”
Though what constituted as a good murder for Sherlock was most definitely not the same for anyone else. In fact, it would be safe to say that most would assume there was no such thing as a ‘good’ murder and John would be inclined to agree with them. As it was, however, he had known Sherlock long enough to understand that a good murder to him meant a murder with mystery. A murder with intrigue. A murder with a puzzle to solve… And Sherlock, it seemed, always enjoyed a good puzzle.
“They’re not my cases, Sherlock,” Lestrade growled out, slumping down into his seat and pulling a folder toward him. His eyes skimmed the first few pages before he gave up and pushed it away again. “There’s nothing I can do.”
Sherlock leaned forward, hands on the edge of Lestrade’s desk. “Then who do they belong to?”
“I don’t know – it’s not my job to know. It’s my job to work on my own cases.” The man held Sherlock’s gaze as he motioned to his desk. “And as you can see, I’ve got my hands a little full at the moment.”
But Sherlock wasn’t giving up. He pressed on. “Did you know your left eyebrow twitches when you lie? Most likely stress related and completely unavoidable.”
Lestrade let go of a long sigh and pushed back into his seat. He shook his head, muttered a curse under his breath, then focused back on Sherlock. He didn’t attempt to deny Sherlock’s observation. He didn’t even attempt to hide it or pass it off as anything else. What would be the use? “DI Dimmock. I’m sure you remember him. He certainly remembers you – still hasn’t recovered from the first time you met.”
Sherlock smiled, tight and brief. “I’ll be on my best behaviour.”
The DI raised an eyebrow at that. “Is that even possible?”
John was wondering the exact same thing as Sherlock spun on his heel and swept from Lestrade’s office. He made to follow the man but Lestrade’s voice caused him to pause in his movements.
“I would appreciate it if you don’t mention I sent you. No doubt Sherlock’ll slip it in somehow but if it could be avoided...”
John nodded. “I understand.” And then he trailed after Sherlock, catching up just as the man had began his questioning of Dimmock.
“Haven’t you got anything better to do, Mr. Holmes?” the young DI asked.
“What could possibly be better than to offer up my expertise in order to aid the good police of London in their search for answers and justice?” That tight smile had returned to Sherlock’s lips and John questioned if the sarcasm came as part of the ‘best behaviour’ package or if it was just an added extra thrown in especially to annoy Dimmock.
Dimmock offered his own tight smile in return. “And these expertise of yours, they’re telling you that these murders are related somehow?”
“I am rarely wrong on such matters, Detective Inspector. I’m certain Lestrade will vouch for me on that.”
“I’m sure Detective Inspector Lestrade would...” Dimmock continued, any contrary words left unsaid as his jaw tightened and he looked to his right. “and after the last time, I’d have to agree. So tell me, Mr. Holmes, how exactly are these murders related?”
The smile grew on Sherlock’s face, lighting up his eyes with that mischievous glimmer John was so used to seeing. “Allow me to see the crime scene and the victim’s possessions and I’ll show you.”
The first crime scene held nothing of importance. It had rained since Melissa Hardy’s murder, the dirty rain water washing away any of the evidence missed by the SOCOs. As for the third victim, who had been pushed in front of a train in one of the underground stations, he had been seen to quickly and the area cleaned so the trains could start again as soon as possible. Since then, far too many people had passed through the scene. Whatever evidence that may have been there had since been contaminated.
That left the second victim – the second crime scene. Greg Mathers.
Sherlock dropped to his haunches inside the kitchen of Mathers’ home, his hands splayed out before him, hovering above the floor. To anyone watching, they could have been reminded of a T.V. psychic feeling for ‘vibes’ or ‘disturbances’ in the air. John certainly thought that was how he looked, and Dimmock just stood with his hands buried in his trouser pockets only partly paying attention.
The rest of Dimmock’s mind was questioning his sanity – along with what would become of his career if he continued on like this. Not that he had planned for promotion anytime soon, but he didn’t want the option to be taken from him.
“Interesting,” Sherlock murmured, jumping to his feet. His eyes roamed the room as he spun and moved from the empty spot to the back door then back out into the hall.
“What’s interesting?” John asked, arms folded across his chest. It looked like a normal kitchen to him. It didn’t even look like a crime scene.
Sherlock motioned blindly to a clock on the kitchen wall with one hand, his eyes and other hand focused on the edge of the kitchen doorframe. “That clock hasn’t moved since we arrived.”
John looked to the clock and frowned. He hadn’t even noticed. A quick glance at his watch told him it was five hours fast, or several more hours slow. “Maybe the batteries are dead.”
The withering look John received had him rolling his eyes. He pushed forward and lifted the clock from its nail on the wall before turning it over in his hands. No batteries.
“How did you...” he started, but Sherlock cut him off.
“Double A’s sitting in the fruit bowl. Seems like an odd place to leave batteries – amongst an abandoned apple and banana.”
“Right, of course.”
“So what are you saying, Mr. Holmes?” Dimmock asked, jumping into the conversation with barely concealed frustration.
Sherlock pulled something free from a knick in the doorframe and moved back into the room so he could see the clock fully once more. “I’m saying – someone set the clock like that for a reason. They wanted us to see it.”
“Ten past seven? What’s so important about ten past seven?”
Sherlock shook his head, looking down at the clock in John’s hands. “No, it’s much more precise than that – either that or it’s extremely careless.”
“But what’s it supposed to mean?”
John frowned at the hands. “Time of death?” he suggested.
Again, Sherlock shook his head but this time it was with an element of uncertainty. “I have no idea.”
He raised the thing in his hands – a small piece of dulled blue fabric that had been caught on the doorframe. “Perhaps this will shed some light and provide some answers.”
“And just what is that?”
“The door is splintered at the very edge – it caught my coat on the way in.”
“Meaning you think it might have caught the murderer’s coat too?”
“Precisely, John.” Sherlock turned the fabric over in his hands. “How tall was Greg Mathers, Detective Inspector?”
Dimmock shrugged. “Short – five foot three, maybe four.”
The detective nodded as if Dimmock was merely confirming something he already knew. “Our murderer is most likely taller then – six foot roughly, judging by the height where the fabric caught.”
Dimmock let go of an irritated huff of breath. “That’s all fascinating, Mr. Holmes, but you still haven’t told me how these murders are linked.”
“And you still haven’t shown me the victims’ possessions.”
It was nearing six o’clock when the three of them had finally settled down in an empty office at Scotland Yard. The evidence from the scenes, along with the victims’ possessions, sat at the table of the room – boxed up and organised relatively neatly.
“Witnesses?” Sherlock questioned as he shifted through the first box.
John settled down at the table and pulled a second box toward him. ‘Joseph Brown’ was written in black marker, staining a white label that had been slapped onto the front. The train victim.
“None,” Dimmock answered. He stayed by the door, watching over them, taking in every little movement of Sherlock’s. An eager child waiting to learn.
John’s fingers stilled on the lid of his chosen box and his brow pulled down. He met Dimmock’s gaze. “Even at the station?”
Dimmock shook his head. “Too crowded. No one saw anything. Though, one guy claimed he saw a shadow push the victim onto the tracks.”
“Note on the report from the questioning officer said he stunk of booze so there’s no telling what the guy really saw – or if he would remember it if questioned again.”
“And cameras? They do have cameras down there, don’t they?”
This time it wasn’t Dimmock who answered but Sherlock. His eyes still glued on what he had emptied from the first box, his fingers still sifting through it, and yet he was still perfectly capable of taking all that in and the conversation as well.
“No doubt a blind spot,” he answered, picking up the dead woman’s purse and clicking it open.
Dimmock nodded in agreement and John let go of a deep sigh. He turned back to his own box and lifted the lid. The contents consisted of a smashed up mobile phone, a wallet and a wedding ring. John closed his eyes at the sight and shook his head. Of course, like the victim, there wouldn’t be much left of the belongings either. His thoughts lingered on the mess that would have been left behind after the train had hit the man and he felt his stomach roll at the image his mind’s eye created. With a shaky breath, he pushed it away and opened his eyes again.
His fingers wrapped around the wallet, black leather, and he pulled it from the box. Inside was a blood stained twenty and a folded picture of a happy family.
“Why?” John found himself asking. “Why kill these people?”
“Because the murderer can,” was Sherlock’s simple answer.
“But why him?” John dropped the wallet and photo back into the box and turned to motion the other boxes – the reminders of the other victims. “Why any of them?”
“Wrong place, wrong time.”
“That’s not a reason.”
Pale blue eyes looked up to hold John’s gaze. Was there empathy there? A silent understanding hidden beneath the cold resignation of Sherlock’s next words? “Sometimes it’s the only reason some people need.”
Then those eyes dropped back to the item in his hand and Sherlock changed the direction of the conversation – any momentary empathy gone to be replaced by the same hard professionalism that John was used to. “Do you have the time, John?”
“Yes, John, the time. I’m assuming you’re aware of the concept if your regular evening routine is anything to go by – showered and fed by nine in time to catch that ridiculous show of yours.”
John forced himself not to roll his eyes. Instead he begrudgingly tugged at his sleeve enough to reveal his watch. “Six twenty – why?”
“Because according to Melissa Hardy’s watch, it is currently eight minutes past seven.”
“Just like the clock?”
Dimmock stepped forward, head cocked to the side like a young pup attempting to understand why it’s master kept saying words like ‘sit’ and ‘down’ and ‘heel’. “You’re saying that’s our link?” he asked, eyes narrowed. “But that’s just coincidence.”
“Coincidence?” Sherlock raised an eyebrow at Dimmock. “The batteries were removed from the clock at Mathers’ residence and this watch has been stopped on purpose. Seems like a rather strange coincidence, don’t you think?”
“Alright then,” Dimmock relented. “But what about Brown?”
John gazed back into the nearly empty box of the third victim and nodded, following Dimmock’s line of thought. “There’s no watch here – nothing with a time on it.”
Watch trapped in Sherlock’s hands as he brought them together and up to his chin in thought, Sherlock gazed out across the room.
“The train,” he said after a moment, certainty lining his voice. “Check the train schedule for the one that hit Brown. You’ll find your missing link there.”
“Eight minutes past seven? That’s what links the victims?” Dimmock shook his head, a light scoff escaping from his mouth.
“It would appear so.”
“So what does it mean?”
But Dimmock never got his answer – which was really just as well because Sherlock didn’t have one for him. The young DI’s phone began to ring and he pulled it from his pocket before excusing himself. Ten minutes later he was back.
He cleared his throat, phone loose in his grip. “We’ve got another one.”
And that was all he needed to say. Sherlock was up and moving toward the door before John could even register the snippet of information, let alone think it through and file it away.
A fresh victim, a fresh crime scene – more data. The dark-haired man’s enthusiasm barely surprised John. As delighted as a chocoholic with an extra large bar of chocolate or any other addict presented with the obsession of their vice for that matter – only some were deadlier than others.
Sherlock and John arrived by taxi. It pulled up shortly after Dimmock and the pair stepped out into the cool evening air.
The quiet street was crowded with police cars – the flashing red and blue lights tainting the suburban setting. The occasional curtain shifted, a nosy neighbour attempting to see what was going on, and several cars slowed down at the end of the street before moving along again.
John walked toward the cordon tape in step with Sherlock. Dimmock led the way.
It reminded John of that first evening he had spent with Sherlock. If he had known back then this was where his life would lead, if he had the chance to do it all over again... well, he would do exactly the same thing. He didn’t like the murders or the bodies but the chase, the chase was something different. The thirst for that chase was what had led John here. It was that shared thirst that had him and Sherlock working side by side.
But tonight he felt uneasy. To chase made you a predator and yet, walking down that road toward the latest victim, he felt more like prey.
His gaze searched the street and his heart almost skipped a beat at what he caught sight of from the corner of his eye. A familiar shadow that was there and then gone when John turned to get a proper look. His feet came to a stop and he frowned.
A trick of the light? His mind toying with him? After all, it wasn’t like he had actually had time to eat since those few mouthfuls at breakfast. Christ, Sherlock was rubbing off on him.
“John?” The sound of the consulting detective’s voice drew John back.
He blinked away the imagined shadow and returned to Sherlock’s side. Yet, walking away, he couldn’t help one last glance back down the street, searching for that shadow. And even when he accepted that he had imagined it, he couldn’t accept that he was imagining the burning feeling inside his chest – the feeling that told him someone was watching. He couldn’t accept that was imagined because usually, that feeling was right.
And shadow or no shadow, John Watson was certain – as the pair entered the crime scene behind Dimmock – that they were being watched. Someone, somewhere on that street, was watching them. Not unlike how a hawk watches a mouse before moving in for the kill.
“Gibbons, Wendy Gibbons – according to her driver’s licence. Twenty-seven. We’re running a check on her address and background now.” It was Lestrade who spoke. He had met the three of them inside the property.
“I thought you were busy,” Sherlock drawled, eyeing the older DI.
“Apparently,” Lestrade started, his gruff accent heavy on the word, “not busy enough.”
Lestrade led the way, passing through the empty hallway of the abandoned house. The walls were stained black, the wallpaper blistered and burnt away. A fire had claimed the property a long while ago and no one had claimed it back since. And so it stood empty. The perfect spot for a murder. Only the real crime scene wasn’t in the house. It was in the enclosed yard out back.
As Sherlock moved to hover above the body of Wendy Gibbons, the DI turned to look to Dimmock. “I thought it might be linked to your cases – so thought it best you take a look.”
Dimmock never got the chance to speak.
“There’s no doubt about it – it has to be the same murderer,” Sherlock answered. He dropped to his haunches, magnifying glass out. “John,” he continued, “your opinion?”
“Right...” John cleared his throat and lowered himself down next to Gibbons, one knee resting against the ground as he considered the girl. He reached out a hand, realised his lack of a glove, and drew back. “Has anyone got a-”
Sherlock immediately thrust a disposable glove in his direction and John took it with a grateful nod.
He rolled the victim’s head lightly from side to side before moving to open her eyes. After a few moments of careful consideration, he nodded once more and pulled back. Arm resting across his knee, he looked to Sherlock. “I’d say asphyxiation judging by her eyes and the marks on her skin.”
“Interesting,” Sherlock murmured. He still busied himself with his magnifying glass. “He gave her a chance to fight back.”
“What do you mean?”
Snapping the small glass closed, Sherlock motioned to the woman’s fingers with one hand. “Look at her fingernails – there’s blood underneath them. She managed to scratch him.”
“So we’ve got him then?” Lestrade questioned.
A frown took hold of Sherlock’s features, eyes narrowing. He pushed up and paced beside the body. “No, something isn’t right. The murderer is smart, or at least thinks himself to be. The first victim was clean but then he left the cloth at the second scene and now blood? No... Why would he be so careless as to leave such a vital piece of evidence behind? Was he interrupted?”
“Maybe he isn’t as smart as you think he is.”
“No, he’s definitely smart. Eight minutes past seven – that’s smart. I don’t know how but it is. It means something.” Sherlock took a breath, looked down at the victim again then clicked his teeth. “He wants us to find these things. He wants us to find him... or does he? Why? What game is he playing?”
“Just hang on a minute, Mr. Holmes,” Dimmock interrupted. “How do we even know she’s one of his? I don’t see a watch or a clock, do you?”
An annoying BEEEP! BEEEEP! echoed up from the body on the ground in response. It continued, full and irritating in just the right way – the way only an alarm could. Sherlock pulled a phone from the young woman’s coat pocket and the BEEEP! BEEEP! grew louder, ringing out on the empty air. He took one look at the screen and then turned it to face the others.
“Does that answer your question?”
19:08 the screen read.
It was late. The sun had finally disappeared from the sky and had said sky not been so polluted by London lights, the first few twinklings of stars would have been visible in the blanket of faux blue. As it was, the first few twinklings of orange streetlights came instead.
Sherlock and John had returned to Baker Street. There was nothing else at the crime scene for them and Sherlock had finally been persuaded to allow Anderson to look into the blood under the fingernails. Though, John knew that if it hadn’t been for the mystery time and numbers, then Sherlock would have insisted on following up on the blood himself. But the numbers were more interesting.
John slumped in his chair and looked over to Sherlock. The man stood with purple sleeves rolled up to his elbows, staring at the collage he had created on the wall. Print outs of news articles, snippets of information he had ‘borrowed’ from Scotland Yard and a small map which marked each murder. In the centre of it all were the numbers – 19:08.
“Why nineteen?” John had asked when the detective had first put the numbers on the wall. “Why not seven?”
“Seven doesn’t fit all four murders,” Sherlock had explained. “Nineteen does. The watch, the clock... they were set for PM, not AM but there was no way to indicate this. And the train, it was in the evening.”
So 19:08 it was. The scrap of paper sat, pinned to the wall, mocking them both.
“Four murders,” Sherlock began, hands on his hips and eyes narrowed at the wall. “All different. But why? Why four different methods?”
John watched his flatmate and was reminded of something the man had said those months before during the Moriarty case. “Maybe he just doesn’t like repeating himself.”
Sherlock’s head snapped around, his gaze torn away from the wall so his eyes could lock on John instead. Just watching the sudden movement gave John the feeling of whiplash. It was another few long beats before Sherlock spoke and by then, his gaze had travelled slowly back to the wall collage. “Of course... that’s exactly it.”
“It is?” John asked, unable to hide how taken aback he was that Sherlock was actually agreeing with him.
“Yes,” Sherlock continued, his fingers raised to tap on each of the victim’s marker on the map in turn, thoughts flying through his mind as he did so. “He’s bored...”
“He’s bored, so he’s killing people?” John shook his head. It was Moriarty all over again.
“No, the murders are just a means to an end. This isn’t about them. It isn’t about the victims. It’s about the game and it all revolves around this,” Sherlock tapped the numbers in the centre of the collage now. “19:08.”
“And what exactly is that? Why that time?”
Sherlock frowned and took a step back. “I have no idea.”
“Well, that’s helpful...”
“What does it mean?” Sherlock muttered beneath his breath. His mind had already searched his memory for any significance surroundings the numbers. Nothing was found. “What’s so important about this number? Why 19:08? Is it a deadline?”
John frowned further and pushed himself up from his chair. He joined Sherlock at the wall, pulling his phone from his pocket to scroll through it and to the calendar. “It’s the 19th on Friday.”
Sherlock looked to him. “What?”
“Friday,” John repeated, holding up his phone for Sherlock to see. “It’s the 19th. 19th of August.”
Sherlock stared at the number on the screen. “Nineteen, zero, eight,” he murmured. Then in a fit of excitement he grasped John’s shoulders and beamed at him, startling the short man somewhat. “John, you’re a genius! Of course.”
He relinquished his hold and grabbed a pen and paper, scribbling down the new scrap of information. “19:08 isn’t a time. It’s a date.” He pinned the paper to the wall. “Friday... so it is a deadline? But for what? What will happen on Friday?”
John slipped his phone away again and looked to the wall. “Well, tomorrow’s the seventeenth so whatever it is, that leaves two days to figure it out.”
Sherlock remained silent, eyes still locked on the wall as his fingers absently stroked something in his grip. It was then that John looked down to see Sherlock holding the fabric from the victim’s house.
“What are you going to do with that?”
He didn’t need to clarify what he meant by ‘that’. Sherlock knew exactly where his gaze was focused.
“Trace it back to the owner, of course,” the dark-haired man answered, simple and to the point.
“Of course,” John repeated with just a slightly exasperated sigh.
Of course, tracing the fabric back to the owner was easier said than done.
Sherlock had done as much as he could with the fabric at the flat but his equipment there limited his search greatly. In the end, by the time morning had rolled round, he retreated to one of the labs at Bart’s. The bright lights and open area allowed him to work much more efficiently then he could in the cramped kitchen of 221b. Granted, it was his equipment that made it so cramped but that was irrelevant. It wasn’t just the environment that aided his work though. At Bart’s there were more chemicals at hand and the microscope allowed him to see much more detail than the one he had owned since his teenage years.
“What secrets do you have to tell us?” he asked the piece of fabric as he placed it on a slide and readied it for inspection.
The room was silent in response to his words, apart from the humming of computers and the dull buzz of fluorescent lights. John was at the surgery. He had left shortly before Sherlock and Sherlock just couldn’t understand why. Why would John subject himself to the dullness at the clinic when he could be helping Sherlock?
Sherlock pushed the distracting thoughts away and focused on the cloth instead. It was a dull blue, the fabric worn and frayed as if it had been well used and yet the quality still remained. Expensive material.
“A gift?” Sherlock questioned, adjusting the zoom on the microscope. “But of what? Too thin to be a coat...”
The familiar female voice drew him away from the cloth. He raised his eyes enough to see a startled Molly Hooper standing in the doorway. Her nervous smile pulled at her cheeks, twitching the longer she stood there.
“I er... I didn’t know you were here,” she continued when he didn’t speak. “What are you doing?”
“Working,” he answered, returning his gaze to the fabric. He considered, for a very brief moment, asking Molly what expensive gift she would buy a person she was trying to impress. Of course, the answer drifted across his mind without even having to voice the question out loud. Cufflinks or a tie... and the blue fabric was neither.
“I’ll er.. I’ll just...” She made to leave but spun on her heel before she had made it out the door. “I nearly forgot...”
Sherlock watched as she approached the table where his coat and scarf lay. Lifting his scarf, she pulled a folder from beneath it and motioned toward the door once more.
“Bye... then...” And she was gone.
But Sherlock barely took notice. His eyes were locked on the scarf. He jumped to his feet and strode toward it. The touch, the texture, the colour – it fit. The fabric was from a scarf, much like his. He took a small sample from his own scarf and returned to the microscope. He was still there when John entered the room shortly after twelve.
“John,” Sherlock started, only raising his eyes once the door to the room closed fully. He smiled briefly and motioned toward the microscope he had been so intent on. “What do you make of this?”
John came to stand beside Sherlock, the words ‘how did you?’ lost along the way. Sometimes, or so he had learned, it was better not to ask. Arms folded across his chest, he leant in and looked into the microscope. “Is that the cloth from the...”
“It is,” Sherlock interrupted before John could finish adding ‘crime scene’.
“And what about this other piece?” John pulled back and waved his hand toward the second piece of blue fabric. “Where did you get it from?”
John remained still, pondering the snippet of information. “Your... your scarf?” he finally asked, just to clarify.
“Yes, John.” Sherlock’s gaze found the microscope once more, his voice strained and on the very edge of his patience. “My scarf.”
“Are you saying you caught the door with your scarf and didn’t notice?” John frowned. The words didn’t taste right in his mouth. It was no secret that, as much of a genius as Sherlock could be, he could also be a complete idiot at times. But at a crime scene? For him to make such a mistake, it didn’t fit with what John knew about the man.
The glare Sherlock gave him for the simple question, however, did. It answered his question clearly.
“This cloth was left behind by the killer,” Sherlock continued on, leaning back in his seat.
“But they’re practically identical.”
“Yes, to you I imagine they would appear so.”
“But not to you?”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow and drew in a breath. John immediately knew what was coming. It was very much like being on a rollercoaster and reaching that point at the highest point on the track where everything just stops... and then it drops, taking you along with it. Yes, John often thought, life with Sherlock was definitely like being on a rollercoaster.
“The way the cloth is weaved, the quality of the threads – identical in both cases. I imagine they were both even the same colour at one point, but this cloth,” he motioned toward the one from the crime scene, “is duller. The fabric is more faded, suggesting it may be older or well used. There’s also evidence of the beginning of a stain on the very edge of the fabric. I’d need to do further tests to establish what from... though I hardly doubt it will match with any such stains from my own scarf.”
“I don’t understand.” Though in truth, John understood what Sherlock had said clearly. What he didn’t understand was why such a cloth was at the crime scene in the first place.
“No,” Sherlock droned out. “Neither do I.”
The door to the lab opened, revealing Detective Inspector Lestrade and Sergeant Donovan. Lestrade’s face was a picture of seriousness – sombre in the way a face would be if its owner were carrying bad news. Donovan however, had a twinkle in her eyes and perhaps, to the well trained eye, an ‘I told you so’ on her lips. But the most well trained eyes in the room didn’t bother to look – Sherlock was too focused on the puzzle of the fabric.
“Sherlock,” Lestrade started, his voice tired, a breath away from being a weary sigh.
“Not now,” Sherlock replied with a dismissive wave of the hand. “I’m busy.”
“No, Sherlock, you’re really not,” Lestrade continued on, an irritated growl showing through. “You’re not too busy for this.”
Sherlock raised his eyebrows at the man, his features presenting an incredulous expression. “Whatever it is, it can wait until I’m done.”
Lestrade strode further into the room and slammed his palm down onto the nearest table top. The result was a loud bang and a rattle of beakers from the vibration. “Damn it, Sherlock – this is important. Your... thing – whatever it is – can wait. This can’t.”
Sherlock didn’t respond and John had to stop himself from telling the man to stop acting like a child. He would have done so if he himself didn’t want to know more about the blue fabric.
“We can do this here, Freak,” Sally supplied, jaw set firm and arms folded across her chest, “Or we can do it at the Yard.”
Frustration ebbing in, Sherlock rolled his eyes and looked at both Lestrade and Sally. “And just what is this?” he asked.
“The blood results came back from the Gibbons scene,” Lestrade explained.
“And, it matched yours.”
Sherlock scoffed and pushed back from the desk. “Then it’s obvious – I’m being set up.”
Sally tilted her head to the side. “How is that obvious?”
He considered her for a moment before answering. “Do you really think that I, of all people, would be idiotic enough to leave behind something so simple that could be traced back to me?”
A sneer formed on Sally’s face, her nose twisted upward as she let go of a short snort. “But that’s the beauty of it. By doing that, you would be able to say exactly that and make it look like you were framed.”
“Hmmm,” Sherlock murmured in response, a small smile twitching at the very corner of his mouth. Not that he would ever admit to being impressed by the dark-haired woman. At least not without a derogative remark to go with it, like the one that flowed from his lips in that moment. “Amazing – you actually do have a brain inside that bushy little head of yours. I was beginning to lose all hope.”
John shook his head, deciding to cut into the conversation before Sally could retort. “I was with Sherlock all day yesterday. He didn’t kill that woman.”
“I know,” Lestrade nodded. “Dimmock has already vouched that he was with you both at the time of death.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Sherlock questioned, terse and irritated once more.
“The problem, Sherlock, is that whoever is doing this obviously wants our attention to be on you.”
“Or my attention on them.” Sherlock frowned and pushed up, out of the seat. He grabbed his scarf from the top and circled the tables for his coat. But his mind had left the small lab room. It was back in Baker Street. His eyes weren’t seeing the puzzled faces around him or the bright lights and sparkling surfaces. They saw the wall of the flat that had become a collage and in particular, he saw the map.
Mind returning to the lab room, Sherlock focused on Lestrade. “There was a murder not too long back at Haverstock Hill, am I correct?”
“Yeah, week or so back – one of mine. What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Possibly nothing...” Sherlock answered, already at the door. “Possibly everything.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I need to know everything about that case. The first victim was found near Haverstock Hill and if this is related, then that case could very well hold a vital clue in finding our murderer.”
Scotland Yard was its usual busy self. Officers milled about. Computers buzzed. Printers printed. And Sherlock Holmes strode through the place and toward Lestrade’s office as if that was exactly where he was meant to be and no one could say anything against it. But really, no one could say anything against it. Donovan had tried, several times, but Lestrade had cut her off before she could continue any further. In the end, he sent her on a paper errand in order to stop the rising tension.
“Have you eaten?” Lestrade asked, the question directed more at John than Sherlock. After all, he had yet to see the consulting detective eat anything in all the years he had known the man.
“A few mouthfuls earlier,” John answered. A silent sense of worry settling into the pit of his stomach. “Why?”
“Just... be prepared.”
John shot a glance toward Sherlock, took a note of the carefully curious mask in place, then looked back to Lestrade. “It might help if I knew what I was preparing myself for.”
“Trust me,” said Lestrade. “It won’t.”
He moved around his desk, shrugging out from his coat and laying it over the back of his chair. Fingertips tracing the edges of the folders on his desk, he found the right one and flipped it open. Photographs spilled out to cover the rest of the folders – pictures of the crime scene from Haverstock Hill.
Both doctor and consulting detective gazed down at them. For one, a memory flashed up of an experiment gone wrong in the microwave and for the other, a different kind of memory flashed up – one that was filled with smells and sounds and visuals. One that caused his chest to tighten, his mind to spin and his heart to leap into his throat. For one long and horrible moment, John Watson was back in Afganistan with gunfire and explosions and confusion and chaos. For one long and horrible moment, his arm felt too light from the lack of a gun and his body began to buzz from the growing adrenaline.
Then Sherlock knocked him as he brushed passed for a better view of the pictures and the touch tore John away from one battlefield and back to a very different one.
“Well,” Sherlock said, leaning over the desk and eyeing each photo in turn. “This is certainly different.”
“Different?” John scorned. “It’s a massacre.”
“Yes, very true but it is also most unusual.” The dark-haired man picked up one of the pictures and held it up to his eye level. “Were there any possessions? A wallet? A purse? Anything nearby?”
“Nothing,” Lestrade answered. His attention was focused on a small smudge on his window. He had seen enough of the blood and gore when he was at the scene, he didn’t need to see it again.
Sherlock hummed, free hand coming up to rest over his mouth in thought. He stayed quiet for the longest time, taking everything in.
“Well?” Lestrade prompted.
Sherlock paid him no attention and looked to John instead. “John, your opinion?”
John looked at him, really looked at him, attempting to judge whether or not the man was serious in his request. After all, he couldn’t see what he could have to add that would be of any use. “Honestly?”
A light frown tugged at Sherlock’s lips. “Obviously.”
“I don’t know... an explosion maybe? But I can’t see any scorch marks in the photos.”
“My thoughts precisely.” Sherlock nodded and placed the photo back on the desk. He raised his eyes and met Lestrade’s. “Where is the evidence now?”
“The evidence?” Lestrade started, brow furrowed. “You mean the... what’s left of the body?”
“Why must I always repeat myself? Yes... what’s left of the body. Where is it?”
Lestrade hesitated, looking Sherlock over. “Why?” he asked, unsure of whether or not he actually wanted an answer. After all, it was Sherlock. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m assuming you haven’t identified the victim yet or I would have read something about it somewhere.”
“Anderson-” Lestrade started in return, or at least he tried to start.
Sherlock didn’t allow him to finish. The consulting detective’s face ticked in distaste of the name and his gaze moved to consider the rest of the room. “Anderson,” he said, the name drawn out tightly, “along with his limited brain cell functioning, is also limited in resources. If the person had been in any accessible databases, I’m sure you would have a name by now. That you don’t suggests you need to look further afield.”
“And I suppose you know exactly where to look?”
This time Sherlock’s face twitched for an entirely different reason. “I daresay Mycroft will have changed the passwords after the last time but its more to waste my time than to stop me completely.”
“Passwords...” John repeated, and then because he was far too curious to stop his mouth from asking, “Password for what?”
“All of the Governments dirty little secrets.” A Cheshire Cat grin spread across Sherlock’s face.
“Right,” John said, because what else could he say to that? “And how does that help us?”
“DNA,” Sherlock answered simply. He met and held Lestrade’s eyes once more. “So, where is it?”
Lestrade let go of a deep breath and sunk into his chair, giving in finally. Sometimes Sherlock just had a knack for tiring him out and that moment was one of those times. “Anderson will have some samples still.”
“No.” Sherlock shook his head, a scowl slipping back into place. “I don’t want anything he’s tampered with. I want something fresh, something that hasn’t been touched. How do you expect me to reach an accurate conclusion using a second hand piece of evidence?”
“Of course, we wouldn’t want you to put yourself out.” Lestrade raised an eyebrow, sarcasm lacing his words as he tried not to roll his eyes. “Bart’s,” he went on to add. “They kept a few samples. If you’re lucky, they may even be untouched.”
“I suppose it will have to do.” And with that, Sherlock spun on the spot and made his way back toward the door, pausing only long enough to ensure John was right there with him.
When both had left, Lestrade leaned forward in his seat and pulled the folder and photos toward him. The case had been bothering him since it had first been assigned to him. Firstly, as Sherlock had pointed out, they still had yet to identify the victim. What they had discovered was that the that (he had taken to calling the mess at the scene ‘that’ because calling it a body felt wrong and every time he described it as anything other than that, his stomach rolled over, threatening to do a triple back flip with a less than perfect landing) was definitely human and appeared to belong to the same person.
How the mess had gotten to be at 237 Haverstock Hill in the first place, he still hadn’t the first idea about. And how it hadn’t gotten to be so messy... well, that one he didn’t want to think about at all.
Now Sherlock was suggesting that it was related to the string of murders? And experience had taught Lestrade that Sherlock, for all his arrogance and lack of respect for others and police protocol, was generally right. From a young age, he had mastered reading people and situations in the same way an artist would master the use of a brush and an easel or a writer would master words and rhythm. Patterns in behaviour, little telltale signs like a subtle shift in position or an unconscious twitching of a muscle – every little detail, Sherlock picked it up and usually, the conclusions he drew were correct.
So when Sherlock said the Haverstock Hill crime scene was related to the others, yes, Lestrade was very much inclined to believe him.
More to come soon - thanks for reading!!
A wise scientist once described time as having ripples – tiny little fractures that are barely even noticeable but are no less there. Should one accidentally touch one of these fractures, because of how inconceivably small they are the effect would be just as inconceivably small. The larger fractures, which barely ever grow to larger than the head of a needle, have a greater effect in that touching one feels, well, very much like being pricked by a needle.
It was this sensation, followed by a cold chill and sense of unexplainable but terrible foreboding that John Watson felt when he accidentally stepped on such a fracture on his way into the familiar laboratory inside of Bart’s. He stopped in his tracks, shivered at the feeling, and frowned.
“Something wrong?” Sherlock asked, looking up from the microscope he had been focused on for the past ten minutes. It was no longer blue fabric that sat beneath it but a small sample of flesh.
“I think someone just walked over my grave,” John answered, brushing off the shivers but finding it harder to rid himself of the sudden growing pit in his stomach.
Sherlock pushed away from the table, his eyes searching John up and down. “And here I was thinking only the dead had graves.”
John rolled his eyes in response and moved to stand beside his flatmate at the microscope. It was late, or early depending on how you looked at it – something past one the last time John had looked at his watch. The computer on the desk hummed and whirred and made several other strange noises as it worked at finding a DNA match for the flesh under the microscope.
“It’s just a saying, Sherlock,” John went on to add, nose scrunched up and eyes narrowed at the piece of flesh.
“Well, it’s a stupid one.”
John huffed out. “In case you hadn’t noticed, most of them are.”
A devilish glint started in Sherlock’s eyes and moved down to play at the corner of his mouth, lips twitching upwards into a smile. “Oh, I don’t know – I quite like the one about an apple a day.”
“Shall I just leave and come back later?” John asked, hitching a thumb over his shoulder and toward the door. “Maybe Molly’s still around and I can get her to bring you an apple so you can see how that saying goes for you.”
Sherlock shook his head but the smile stayed on his lips as he moved back down to the microscope. “It would never work – I don’t eat apples.” Then, as if he wasn’t changing the subject in the slightest way at all, he leaned back from the microscope and motioned toward it. “What do you think?”
“I think it’s a bit of dead flesh,” john answered without so much as looking.
Sherlock raised both eyebrows, a dubious expression slipping into place on his features. “Really, John?” he muttered, disapproving. “Is that all you have to offer? Surely as a doctor you must be curious?”
Letting go of a sigh, John grumbled under his breath and lowered himself to the microscope. “Muscle tissue most likely,” he said, adjusting the sight and enhancement. “Huh...”
“Yes?” Sherlock prompted, voice all but level except for that twinge of excitement John had come to recognise as the same one he got whenever he was investigating something unusual or extra puzzling.
John pulled back. “Well,” he started, “It looks like some of the cells have been... mutated.”
His eyes found the slide and tissue again. Without the microscope, it didn’t look particularly extraordinary. In fact, it looked just as John had first described it – like a bit of dead flesh. But under the microscope was a different story. Large parts of it were, for the most part, just normal bits of dead flesh but smaller sections weren’t so normal.
“Exactly,” Sherlock said with that same excitement. He leaned back over the microscope again, fiddling with it and the slide. “But what could cause such mutation? Is it linked to the cause of death?”
“You mean did it happen when they were blown up?” John asked, voice dry.
“Isn’t that what I said?”
John didn’t answer.
“What were you up to?” Sherlock questioned the flesh, staring down at it intensely once more.
If he expected an answer, he certainly wasn’t getting one. At least not from the flesh. The computer, however, was a little more forthcoming. After another hour or so – John had lost track and had given up checking his watch, Sherlock just didn’t care – it beeped and a message flashed up on the screen.
POSSIBLE MATCH FOUND
And ‘possible’, it seemed, was good enough for Sherlock.
“Dr. David Adams,” he read from the screen, already making the necessary movements of retrieving his scarf and coat.
John raised his head from where he had it rested on his crossed arms and frowned at Sherlock, sleep still blurring his sight and mind. “Are we going home?”
Sherlock folded the coat and scarf over his arm. “When we have the necessary answers.”
John’s frown deepened. “So we’re not going home?”
“There are still too many questions that need answering.”
John’s eyes found his watch before looking to Sherlock once more. “Sherlock,” he started, gaze moving toward the computer screen briefly then back to his flatmate. And then, because said flatmate failed to respond, he repeated the name with a little more force. “Sherlock!”
Sherlock stopped dead, pale eyes turning to consider John.
“Do you have any idea how many David Adams’ there’ll be in the phonebook? And do you really think any of them will appreciate being knocked up at stupid o’clock in the morning?”
“Yes, but that’s irrelevant. Firstly, the man is a doctor – which would narrow the search considerably.” Sherlock placed his hand on the door handle, waiting for John to move.
John shook his head and forced himself to his feet, dragging his jacket toward him from across the table. “You said ‘firstly’.”
“Oh yes.” Sherlock nodded, then continued. “Secondly, it is not David Adams we are paying a visit to.”
“And this other person doesn’t mind being woken up in the middle of the night over something that could wait until the morning?”
“Technically, it is already morning, John, and besides – my dear brother really has no choice in the matter. In fact, it will be a much more pleasant experience for me if he is irritated by the interruption of his sleep.”
Mycroft Holmes, it turned out, was not asleep. An important meeting had kept him at the office and it was in his office that both John and Sherlock waited for the man.
The office was as impressive as the man himself, which is to say extremely impressive indeed. It reminded John of that time he had been forced to visit the Dean’s office whilst studying his first year of medicine. It reminded Sherlock so very much of his father’s study.
The pair waited.
John sat on one of the two chairs that had been supplied shortly after their arrival as Sherlock clung to the edge of the room. Pale blue eyes swept over the bookcases and shelves, taking in every carefully placed detail. Everything was arranged perfectly, from the books to the dust free ornaments – gifts from various sources. Everything had its place.
“Sherlock,” a voice beamed from the office doorway and both Sherlock and John turned to watch Mycroft enter the room. Movements as lethargic as his voice, he made his way through the room and toward his desk. “And Dr. Watson, of course. How charming of you both to visit me but then, I do suspect this is no social call if the hour is anything to go by.”
“David Adams,” Sherlock said, getting straight into it and sparing no pleasantries. His tone was measured, the expression on his face equally so. “He’s a doctor on one of your secret little government projects.”
Mycroft cocked his head to the side but waited until he was seated in the plush chair behind his desk before speaking. “I see you’ve been hacking into my files again, little brother. Should I be enhancing my security to increase the challenge for you?”
Sherlock ignored him and continued on. “He was found dead recently out in Camden Town.”
“Yes, I had heard the news. Terrible business, just terrible.” And yet the elder Holmes didn’t even flinch. “However, I’m afraid you’re mistaken in your conclusions. There is only one David Adams on my staff at the present time and I assure you, he is very much alive. Unless of course you would have me believe that his presence at the meeting I was just attending was merely a hallucination. A meeting, may I add, which had to be cut short due to a certain someone verbally abusing my already tired personal assistant.”
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, carefully considering the man before him. He moved away from the shelf he had been inspecting and came to stand beside John. “His DNA was found at the crime scene.”
Mycroft stood and circled around to the front of the desk, leaning back against it once there. John was reminded of a program he had watched on the Discovery Channel when there had been nothing else on – something about males in the animal kingdom, each trying to outdo the other whether they were proud peacocks or territorial lions vying for control.
“I do believe Dr. Adams should still be in the building if you wish to confirm it for yourself.”
John fidgeted in his seat and looked between the brothers. “And you’re sure it was him?” he asked. “The man you were meeting – you’re sure he was the real David Adams?”
A tight smile slipped onto Mycroft’s lips, his eyes falling to John. “I make it my business to know such things, Dr. Watson.”
“Then perhaps,” Sherlock interrupted, staring Mycroft straight in the eye, his jaw set and words laced with thinly veiled venom, “your scientist has an identical twin with whom he shares his DNA?”
“Or, most likely, you are mistaken.” Mycroft raised his eyebrows, accepting the unspoken challenge. “It would hardly be the first time. You do, after all, have a terrible habit of charging straight in sometimes – drawing the wrong conclusions from innocent actions. Mummy was forever apologising.”
Sherlock’s jaw tightened further, a nerve hit. “This has nothing to do with our mother, Mycroft.”
Mycroft merely kept his eyebrows raised in response, the look in his eyes patronising, his expression moments away from what John could only describe as supercilious.
“Your scientist,” Sherlock continued. “I want to speak with him.”
“Very well then, I shall call him back and you may speak with him in the conference room.”
David Adams was already in the conference room when they arrived. John did wonder if the man had even left in the first place but he didn’t raise his suspicions and if Sherlock had any of his own, he kept them just as quiet.
The man rose from his seat and smiled pleasantly at them, nodding as Mycroft explained their business there. He let go of a light, but slightly forced, laugh.
“Well, clearly I’m alive,” Adams said, that smile still firmly gracing his lips. It stopped at the very bottom of his cheeks, not even attempting to reach his eyes – a very different emotion forming in them. “So I’m afraid you’ve had a wasted journey. Perhaps it was just a gruesome prank?”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow, sceptical as he studied the man before him.
“I really am afraid I can’t be of any help...” the man continued, the smile faltering a fraction – enough to notice if you were really watching him as both Sherlock and John were.
Sherlock’s own features lit up with a smile of his own, but his was much less pleasant and much more ‘hi, I’m a mad axe murderer and you’re my new victim’. “Your blood,” he said simply.
“My blood?” the man’s face fell and he looked to Mycroft.
The deadly smile stayed on Sherlock’s lips. “Yes, I’m sure I could clear this matter right up if you would be so kind as to supply me with a sample of your blood.”
The man still looked to Mycroft, but the elder Holmes was focused on Sherlock. Mycroft nodded and the man swallowed hard, false smile returning.
“Of course,” he murmured, turning back to Sherlock. “If it will help you to clear things up.”
He remained silent as John drew the sample of blood from him and shuffled uncomfortably when Mycroft excused himself in order to attend to important business elsewhere in the building. It was only when Sherlock and John were leaving, Sherlock pausing at the doorway, that the man spoke again. And even then, that was only to respond to Sherlock’s final questionings.
“Oh, one last thing, Dr. Adams,” Sherlock said, fingers wrapped around the handle of the door.
“Yes?” the man questioned, rolling his sleeves back down and raising his eyes to meet Sherlock’s.
“What exactly is it that you do for my brother?”
The man stiffened. “I’m a scientist. I do research.”
“Research on what exactly?”
Jaw set tight, the man’s eyes fell and he pushed himself up from his seat, busying himself with his coat. “A variety of things, Mr. Holmes. I really wouldn’t wish to bore you with the details. Now, I’m afraid I must leave you as I’ve been awake since five AM yesterday and really must get some rest so I can return to said research fresh.”
Elsewhere in London, a man with a Belstaff coat stalked the early morning streets. He paused long enough to pull a phone from his pocket and smiled as the signal reached full bars. The date and time were wrong of course, but they weren’t what mattered. Scrolling through the list, he came to a number he had not used in a long time and entered the first few characters of a text.
He always did prefer to text.
“He’s hiding something, isn’t he?” John asked when the pair were out of the building and walking in the crisp London air once more.
Sherlock nodded, thoughtful and quiet in his musings. “I believe they both are.”
John frowned. “You don’t really think Mycroft is connected to these murders, do you?”
“Yes, John, that is exactly what I think. Whether directly or indirectly, both men are involved and I intend to find out how.”
Shortly after, the pair sat inside a small cafe that had not long since opened for business that day. Sherlock nursed a coffee and John attempted the Full English before him. Both were wide awake, although for John it was more to do with his internal clock reacting to the fact that he should be waking up round about then – conveniently forgetting that it hadn’t been to sleep in the first place. He had had the same experience several times in Afghanistan and also during his studies at University right before an important assignment was due or an exam. Sherlock, on the other hand, never felt tired – or rather, he had fooled his body into no longer feeling tired.
“So what now?” John questioned.
“Now? Now we attempt to discover what it is that my dear brother is hiding. If we succeed, it should lead it to our murder.”
“Yes, should. There is no guarantee that it will.”
“But you’re hopeful all the same?” John shook his head and laid his fork on the table next to his plate. The idea of breakfast had sounded good at the time of ordering it but now it was in front of him, his stomach grumbled in protest.
“Precisely,” Sherlock started to say but the buzz and loud BEEP BEEP of John’s phone cut him off before he reached the ‘ly’.
John reached out and lifted said phone from the table. His brow pulled down as he read it, eyes flicking up to Sherlock briefly before going back to the phone. Then finally, he placed the phone back on the table and stared across at Sherlock. “Is now really the time to be pratting about?”
Sherlock frowned, so brief that if John had blinked, he would have missed it, and he tilted his head ever so slightly to the side. “Pratting about?” he questioned.
John slid the phone across the table top to him, turning it around. “I’m sitting right here – you don’t have to text me.”
“I didn’t text you.” The frown appeared again and Sherlock looked over the phone.
“What do you mean, you didn’t? It says it’s from you.” John took the phone back, double-checked the sender and tapped at the screen. “It’s even signed ‘SH’.”
Sherlock dug his hand into his pocket and brought his phone out. It was untouched. “It wouldn’t be impossible for someone to send a message using another number if they had the right equipment.”
“I swear to God, Sherlock, if this is one of your tricks...” But the look on Sherlock’s face told John it wasn’t and his threat died away. “You’re saying someone hacked your number and sent me a text with it? Why would anyone do that?”
“The why is tricky. The who, however, may be much simpler.” Sherlock placed his hands together, poised as if in prayer, and rested his chin lightly atop his fingertips.
“Yes. The murderer – he obviously knows he should have my attention by now.”
“So I’m getting texts? From a murderer?” John stared down at the phone. “Why me? Why not text you?”
“A very good question indeed.” Sherlock eyed the phone. “Send him a reply. Tell him you’ll be there.”
“Sherlock, if this is the murderer...”
But Sherlock raised an eyebrow and John let go of a breath, relenting.
“Fine,” he said, working at the reply on his phone. “Lauriston Gardens, 10PM it is...”
Lauriston Gardens at ten o’clock on a summer night was nothing like the Lauriston Gardens in the evening of one winter that both John and Sherlock remembered well – though as one was in the habit of deleting excess information that was no longer required, the other remembered the evening much more vividly. It had been dark; the air had held a deepened chill and the place had been cordoned off by police.
Now though, whilst it was certainly growing dark, the sky still held some semblance from the day and the air was warm enough for Sherlock to keep his coat open. As for the police, none were in sight. The street was empty. The only people to walk it were John and Sherlock.
Neither of them could have seen why such a place was so significant to the murderer though. It wouldn’t be until later, whilst they were still wrapping their heads around everything, that they would realise and remember that had been their first case together – and that was why is was so significant.
“We’re here...” John huffed out, coming to a stop on the pavement and allowing his arms to flap out to his side momentarily in exasperation.
“Yes... yes, we are,” Sherlock agreed. He spun on the spot, narrowed eyes inspecting every crevice he could see.
“And the murderer isn’t,” John continued.
“Well,” Sherlock drawled, “I wouldn’t say that. I’m sure he’s here somewhere – watching.”
“Of course... yes, you would say that.” The thought made John shiver. He truly did hate that feeling of being watched. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t have a sniper rifle trained on us. I don’t much feel like being covered in red dots – not my favourite way to spend the evening.”
A small smile played at the corners of Sherlock’s lip and he shot John a mischievous look. “Admit it, this is much more exciting than that terrible reality TV show you were planning on watching instead.”
“Yes, and much more dangerous in that... oh, I don’t know – we might die.”
“That’s half the fun of it.”
John scoffed. “For you maybe.”
“Besides, that’s why you’re here – to keep me alive.”
The rumbling of a car broke through the silence that followed and John turned his head to watch as a taxi passed by the opening of the street, light on, declaring it empty and open for business. The rest of the street remained still. At least the side John was watching did.
Down the opposite end, near one of the trees, a shadow shifted. Sherlock’s eyes followed it, then as the shadow darted further behind the cover, the rest of Sherlock followed as well. He was already halfway toward it before John realised his absence and with long, deep sigh, took off after him.
“Sherlock!” he called.
The man didn’t reply. He was too busy chasing shadows. Left turn. Right turn. Alleyway. Right turn. Dead end. And there, waiting at the end, the darkened figure, hidden from the light, watching him.
“Who are you?” Sherlock shouted, slowing his pace and approaching him with caution. “What do you want?”
A snicker was his reply and Sherlock came to a stop. John’s footsteps echoed in the distance as he raced to catch up. But Sherlock’s eyes were on the man and the man alone.
“I said – who are you?” A growl etched its way into his voice, impatience slipping in at the man and his ignorance.
The man stepped forward, out of the shadows. Light from a nearby sign played across his features, across the twisted smile that settled onto his face and the devilish glint in his eyes. The Belstaff coat hung open, the blue scarf loose but present. And Sherlock found himself staring at an all but perfect reflection of himself.
“Oh, I think you know who I am,” the man drawled, confidence oozing from each word and syllable. “After all, it would be a real shame if you couldn’t recognise yourself.”
Sherlock remained still, thoughts flying too quick around his mind.
“The name’s Sherlock Holmes,” the man continued on, taking another slow, deliberate step forward.
“How?” was all Sherlock could say in reply, the word barely a breath in the air.
The man tilted his head to the side, mockery firmly settling in his eyes. “Strange,” he said, “I don’t remember myself being such an idiot.”
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, carefully considering every move and every word as his mind tried to convince him that it was impossible and yet, at the same time, supply him with theories of how it could happen. “The man – David Adams, he was a test drive?”
“Very good. I was beginning to believe I’d put my hope in the wrong... well, in the wrong me.” The man smiled.
Footsteps entered the alleyway and slowed, coming to a stop almost directly behind Sherlock. John almost lost his breath and definitely began to think he had already lost his mind.
“Sherlock?” he asked, unsure.
Only one set of eyes turned to look at him, darkened, whilst the one with his back to John stared straight ahead, refusing to look away from the Sherlock at the end of the alley. Only, John knew it couldn’t be Sherlock for two reasons. The first being that there was only one Sherlock Holmes and the second being that, as much as the man looked like Sherlock... as much as he smiled liked Sherlock and moved like Sherlock and as much as he may have talked like Sherlock (which John presumed he must do), he wasn’t Sherlock. Something was... off.
“What do you want?” Sherlock asked, his question aimed at the other one... the one that just wasn’t right and couldn’t be real.
“I want to play...” the other answered. “Just think of it as chess.”
“Why?” A growl almost, hands clenched into fists.
The twisted smile returned, gracing those lips. “Because I’m bored. The future is so dull when there’s no one to play against.”
“So you came here to play with me?”
“I came to play with both of you.” Pale but darkened eyes flashed from Sherlock and then to John, lingering on the doctor a little too long.
John ignored the look and moved forward, coming to stand beside his Sherlock, the one he knew was real. His mind was full of questions and many of them were full of swear words that began with F and rhymed with duck. But he knew better than to ask. He knew they wouldn’t be the right questions – knew that Sherlock, the real Sherlock, would know the right questions.
“What will happen on the 19th?” Sherlock took another step forward.
The other flashed his eyes to John once more then back to Sherlock. “I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.”
“I don’t like surprises.” Flat, emotionless – very much like Sherlock’s face in that moment. So controlled, so wary.
The wicked grin on the other man’s face grew. “No, what you don’t like is not being in control. I should know...”
“Why are you doing this?” John asked, unable to stop himself.
“Because I can.” Smile still on his face, he turned on his heel, facing the first exit of the building beside him.
“As thrilling as this has been,” he threw over his shoulder, “I’m sure you both need some time to get your heads around all of this. Goodbye, Sherlock Holmes.” He paused, turning to look at John briefly once more. “Goodbye, John.”
And then he was moving again, quick as the shadow Sherlock had first seen. He wrenched the fire exit open, kicking away the small stand that had been keeping it slightly ajar, and flew into the building.
The door had already slammed closed by the time Sherlock reached it. Tight shut. No way to get inside. And it hit him then that the other man had planned it all out – had led them to that spot, escape route ready... knowing that Sherlock would be unable to follow – knowing that, by the time both John had Sherlock had made it around to the front of the building, as they both did, he would be long gone. Even if they searched inside the building and asked the people on the street which way the man went... he would be gone again, into the shadows to watch them.
Sherlock and John arrived back at Baker Street shortly after one. Neither had truly spoken about the incident though both thought about it at great length. But to say anything out loud? That would be admitting that it really happened. That would be admitting that out there, walking the streets of London, was a man who talked and looked just like Sherlock himself.
Entering the flat, Sherlock rived his scarf away from his neck and tossed it carelessly in the direction of the sofa. His coat followed shortly. He was in one of those moods, aggressive and unafraid to show it. He had been since the man had gotten away – since he had bested him.
John removed his own jacket with more care, hanging it up in its proper place.
“Tea?” he suggested, hoping a good cup would calm the detective down.
Sherlock didn’t answer. He planted himself before the collage on the wall and stared at it, accusation written in his eyes. Though how he could accuse an innocent wall of anything was beyond logic.
“Of course,” he growled out, eyes finding the numbers in the centre of it all. 19:08. “It’s so simple – so obvious! Why didn’t I see it before?”
John sighed and took the bait, staring at the wall also. “What are you talking about, Sherlock?”
“Right.” John nodded. “What about it?”
“It’s a signature. 19:08. SH.”
“Yeah, I’m not seeing it.”
Sherlock huffed out but instead of leaving John in the dark, decided to explain despite his lack of patience. “Each letter of the alphabet has a corresponding numerical value. A is one, B is two and so on and so on.”
“And you’re saying that 19:08 is SH?”
Sherlock bobbed his head.
“So it’s not a date then?” John asked, a frown tugging at his lips and brow.
“No... It’s both. It was all chosen very specifically. The numbers, they’re a double meaning – date and signature.” Sherlock brought his hands up to his chin. He was still missing something, though what that was, he just couldn’t figure out.
“Sherlock...” John started after a further moment, unsure of himself. “That man back there...”
“Yes, John – what about him?” Sherlock asked, distracted, his mind focused on what was in front of him.
“What was that? I mean... how did he do that?”
“Time travel,” Sherlock answered simply.
John scoffed. “Time travel?” And then he raised a sceptical eyebrow. “You’re not seriously suggesting that was really you in that alley?”
“Technically, no. Not me, per se but rather one possible outcome of a future me.”
And it unnerved John just how calmly Sherlock could talk about such a subject. “Really though, Sherlock? Time travel? That’s impossible. Even I know that.”
Sherlock shook his head. “Evidentially it’s not impossible, merely highly improbably or my future self would not currently be making himself at home in the present day London.”
“But... it’s time travel!”
Now Sherlock raised an eyebrow, looking over his flatmate. “Yes, John, we have concluded that it is time travel. I daresay it’s been done before if anyone were to look deep enough. The Somerton Man springs to mind.”
“The what...? No, no – never mind. I don’t want to know.” John held his arms out in front of him and waved them back and forth in denial. “All I need to know is that wasn’t you... Time travel or not. That couldn’t have been you.”
“And why not?”
“Because you don’t kill people, Sherlock. That man, the one who’s done all this,” he waved a hand toward the wall, “he’s evil and twisted and I know you’re not exactly considered normal but... you’re not like that. I can’t believe you would turn into something like that.”
Sherlock’s eyes softened, a small smile playing on his lips. “You do remember the warning Sergeant Donovan gave you? She told you I was dangerous.”
“Dangerous, yes. But a killer? You get bored, Sherlock, but you don’t go around murdering people.”
Pale eyes returning to the collage on the wall, Sherlock let out a low breath. “You seem to hold a higher opinion of me than I deserve, John. I told you once, don’t make people into heroes. You would do well to remember that advice.”
Morning came. It brought no answers with it, merely more frustrations.
Sherlock still stared at the wall, occasionally moving about – to his netbook, to the newspaper, to the window to peer down onto the empty street below. John had long since passed out on the sofa. His body had finally given in and Sherlock had taken pity, drawing a blanket up over the doctor rather than wake him.
Despite everything he already knew, Sherlock still struggled to find that missing piece. He paced the floor, eyes finding his phone on the table. Mycroft and his scientist had been less than truthful when they had talked and Sherlock felt a slight twang of anger toward his brother, which continued to grow the longer he stared at the phone. After all, whatever it was Mycroft was working on had allowed Him, that man, to travel back.
Which meant, to Sherlock, that the first step in stopping him would be to ensure it couldn’t happen again.
He grabbed his coat but left his scarf – it was lost under John’s sleeping head – and moved to the door. He considered waking the doctor for a moment but dismissed the idea. The man needed his rest. And so Sherlock left 221b Baker Street in search of his brother, knowing very well just where he would be.
Mycroft was drinking morning tea at a tranquil little tea room by the time Sherlock found him. The place was void of others bar Mycroft’s assistant and his driver who waited by the door. Sherlock bristled passed them, unconcerned. They began to voice their objections but a light shake of Mycroft’s head stopped them.
“Good morning, little brother,” Mycroft drawled, placing the china cup on its matching saucer. He motioned toward the empty seat opposite, inviting Sherlock to sit. “What may I do for you this time?”
“I know about your project,” Sherlock answered, taking the seat but pulling it back from the table somewhat.
“And which project is that?” Mycroft raised an eyebrow, absently stirring his tea with his spoon. “One of the top secret ones?” he mocked.
Sherlock leaned forward, his voice lowering. “You know very well which one, Mycroft. Just like you know exactly what happened at Haverstock Hill.”
But Mycroft merely waved the accusation off. “I haven’t the foggiest what you’re referring to, my dear brother.”
Sherlock snorted. “You’re meddling with things you shouldn’t be meddling with.”
“And what’s that?”
“Yes, time. Or more precisely – travel through time.”
To this, Mycroft smiled. “I understand your concerns but what happ-”
“I don’t care about what happened at Haverstock Hill,” Sherlock interrupted, slamming a hand down onto the table. For as calm and in control as he liked to be, the whole situation unnerved him more than any before with the possible exception of Moriarty. “I’m here about what happened after that...”
A silence fell, drawn out as each brother stared the other down. Slowly, an understanding passed between them and Mycroft cocked his head to the side.
“Surely you’re not suggesting that-”
But Sherlock didn’t allow him to finish. “You need to put a stop to it, Mycroft. You need to destroy everything – every last piece of data. You have to make sure that I won’t be able to use any of it.”
“If you are correct in your assumptions,” Mycroft answered, “then it’s already too late. Whilst doing so would indeed affect the future, by travelling through time, you take yourself out of the timeline. He would still be here – nothing would change.”
“But it would prevent it from happening again.”
More silence as Mycroft nodded and Sherlock took that to mean his brother would do as he had asked.
“What possible circumstances could make such actions necessary?” Mycroft questioned, staring down into his tea.
“I am still attempting to work that out for myself.”
Mycroft took another sip of his tea before placing the cup back on the saucer. He let out a short breath and shook his head, very much in the way a person may do when saying ‘it’s a shame about all this rain we’re having’. “I had hoped Dr. Watson would have a more positive influence over your future actions,” he said instead.
“I hardly think that John can be...” But Sherlock’s words stalled in his mouth, his mind searching back several hours as the something he had been missing finally slotted into place. “John,” he breathed out, low – tone filled with realisation.
He turned his eyes back to Mycroft, urgency seeping in. “What day is it?”
“Day?” Mycroft questioned, eyebrow raised. Still, he answered all the same. “It’s Friday.”
“Friday? The 19th?”
“Yes, I do believe so. Why do you ask?”
Sherlock gave no reply. He was already on his feet, making his way back onto the street, phone pulled from his pocket and mind cursing the lack of a signal.
John’s phone beeped once, then twice. The first was a text message, the second a warning.
John woke at the second beep and struggled to pull his arm out from where it had become wedged under his upper half. Numbed from his weight, the first few pins and needles worked their way down from his elbow and up from his fingertips – tingling all the way. He ignored it and rolled over, using his not so numb arm to pull his phone toward him.
Low Battery, the warning said, and, given the amount of movies John had seen over the years, he really should have seen it as the bad omen it was.
But, as it was, he was too focused on the text. It was a plea.
Snowed under at the surgery. HELP. Please. – Sarah
A sigh slipped passed his lips and he looked to the room beyond his phone. Empty.
“Sherlock!” he called out, dragging himself up into a seated position. His back protested, neck aching from the way he had been laid.
“Sherlock!” he called again.
But as John pushed away the last dregs of sleep, he noticed the lack of a certain Belstaff coat and another sigh tumbled from him, more weary than the first. Of course, it didn’t surprise him that the man had gone off without him, it was what Sherlock did. It did irritate him though.
Pulling himself from the sofa, John sent a quick reply back to Sarah before clambering on upstairs to freshen himself up. Within half an hour, he was on the streets of London, making his way toward the surgery. His phone continued to beep at him, angrily informing him that it required charging. He turned it off and made a note to ask Sarah if there was a charger in the surgery somewhere.
He also made a note to call Sherlock once he had gotten there to find out what the man had been thinking, leaving without him.
Almost at the same time the thought crossed his mind, his eyes caught sight of a familiar long coat and his feet came to a standstill.
In one direction, the surgery waited for him with a frantic Sarah in need of assistance. In that same direction the traffic buzzed at the very end of the street, people milled about, shoppers shopped, a mother struggled with her pushchair and toddler as a couple argued, the woman struggling with her bags as the man moved on ahead to a dark blue Renault parked a good few feet away from John.
But John was oblivious to all that because in the opposite direction, a Sherlock look-a-like disappeared around a corner and John watched him.
Completely oblivious... oblivious to the man at the blue Renault, opening the door and clambering in. Oblivious to the angered shouts of the girlfriend trailing behind as the man turned the ignition over. And almost oblivious to the explosion that followed...
It’s never slow, like in the movies. It never really drags out. An explosion is just that – an explosion. It’s sudden, instantaneous and damn bloody loud if you happen to be standing nearby, which John had been.
Instincts, instilled in him from his army days, had him recovering fast from where he had ended up on the floor – knocked back by the force of the blast. His eyes scanned the area, taking in his surroundings – the burning car, thick with flames and blackened, billowing smoke, and the damage around the car. The broken windows, blaring of car alarms and the cries and shufflings of others recovering from the shock.
A body lay prone, not far from the car. A quick assessment of the other casualties had him deeming her as a priority. And without even thinking about it, he slipped into doctor mode – the transition so natural. The chaos, the havoc... it was all so familiar, so much like what he had dealt with before.
On his feet, he darted toward the woman and dropped to his knees beside her.
Pulse, weak. Breathing, shallow. Surface wounds, mostly superficial – simple cuts and bruises. Even the shallow cut above her left eye should have left her with nothing but a minor concussion. But the thing that worried John was the lack of response and movement from the woman.
“Hello,” he called to her, authoritative but calm and patient. He checked her eyes and she shifted beneath his touch. “Can you hear me?”
She opened her mouth to respond but her words were lost to a whimper of pain.
“It’s okay, I’m a doctor. Just take it easy – take your time.”
His eyes found her stomach and the first few specks of red that began to stain her shirt and he realised then that the surface wounds were not so superficial.
“Can you tell me your name?” he asked, careful as he inspected the wound more closely.
“Ca-catherine,” she choked out, the name strained, raw in her throat.
“Hi, Catherine, I’m John.” His eyes met hers and he offered a brief smile before returning his attention to her stomach. Blood flowed more freely from the wound now and he searched the area for something to stop it...
The woman’s shopping bags lay nearby and he grabbed one. Shoes. He grabbed the other. Shirts. They would have to do.
“I hope these weren’t expensive, Catherine,” he went on to say, pressing them to the wound.
She didn’t reply. Her eyes closed once more.
“Catherine,” he called, one hand on the shirts and one tapping her cheek lightly. “I need you to stay awake, Catherine. Can you do that?”
She opened her eyes and attempted a nod.
“Good.” He nodded his own head before glancing up at the chaos that continued on around him. In the distance, the first few sirens began to wail and he wondered if the emergency services would get there in time. He looked back down to the woman. “Catherine, can you tell me where it hurts?”
She took a shaky breath. “E-every... everywhere.”
“I thought you might say that...” he mumbled before swallowing hard, continuing to listen to the approaching sirens. “Just... just keep holding on, Catherine, there’ll be an ambulance here soon...” And under his breath, he added, “I hope.”
Sherlock dashed up the stairs of 221b Baker Street and straight into the living area. He still clutched his phone tightly in his hand but each time he had called John, he was diverted to voicemail. His texts had been unanswered thus far, and now... now Sherlock could see no sign of the man inside the flat.
“John!” he called out, moving into the kitchen and cursing when he found it empty. “Damn it, John.”
He headed back out to the stairs, about to climb them the rest of the way up to John’s room. The small voice at the bottom stopped him and he turned to stare impatiently at Mrs Hudson.
“Oh, there you are, Sherlock dear,” she said, voice lofty, unaware of the racing of Sherlock’s mind.
“Mrs Hudson, I’m afraid I don’t have ti-”
But she continued on as if he hadn’t spoken, carrying a Tesco bag up the stairs – milk, bread, the bare necessities that Sherlock often took for granted and Join didn’t always have time to buy. “You and the doctor have been working so hard, I thought you could do with a few bits and bobs. Just this once though, dear.”
She brushed passed him and into the kitchen of the flat. Sherlock followed.
“Yes, Mrs Hudson – where is John?”
She frowned and paused in her unpacking. “I wouldn’t know. I never heard him leave.”
Sherlock cursed under his breath, turning to leave. What she said next though, had him pausing.
“Terrible business,” she breathed out. “Just terrible.”
“What is?” Sherlock asked, voice tight, mind too distracted to pay full attention.
“Why the explosion of course, dear. They reckon it was a terrorist attack.”
And right then, Sherlock knew exactly where John was.
By the time Sherlock arrived at the scene of the explosion, the emergency services were already there. The area was cordoned off, police gathering statements, settling the chaos, as paramedics attended to the wounded and firemen to the wreck. It wasn’t until Sherlock saw the ambulance and the person on the stretcher that he also saw John, in the thick of it all.
He was aiding the paramedics, shooting off instructions into the ambulance even as he backed away, ready to help another person injured by the blast. Sherlock got to him first. He gripped John’s upper arms, looked him up and down and proceeded to prod at the slight cuts and first few signs of bruising along the man’s jaw line.
“Sherlock,” John attempted to say, trying to push the detective back. “Sherlock!” he tried again.
This time he succeeded in breaking free and took a step backward to prevent Sherlock from continuing his examination. “I’m fine,” John breathed out, a gentle, amused smile gracing his lips. “Look... just fine.”
“What happened?” Sherlock demanded, his eyes now searching the scene – searching for that figure in a Belstaff coat.
“Car bomb,” John answered simply. He looked toward the skeleton of the car briefly, then his eyes wandered toward the corner He had disappeared around.
“It blew up.”
But Sherlock was un-amused by the answer, capturing John’s gaze and refusing to look away.
John swallowed. “Just before it happened, I saw... I thought I saw you... Him. I don’t know.” He shrugged. “I stopped... considered going after him.”
A frown took over Sherlock’s features and he surveyed the area once more. “And where were you when it happened?” Though he already feared the answer.
“Good several feet away from the car... not as close as I could have been.”
Sherlock let go of a breath and paced the road in front of John, stride lengthy and strong – purposeful. “If he hadn’t been here... if you hadn’t seen him and had just continued on...”
His words died away but the frantic pacing didn’t and he cursed under his breath.
“Then what, Sherlock?” John questioned, eyes never leaving the man before him. “I would have been blow up as well? Sherlock, you’re being irrational. What makes you think that would have happened? You have no way of knowing that.”
He snorted and shook his head but then Sherlock stopped and looked him dead in the eye. Any trace of a smile faded as John slowly began to realise what Sherlock had already worked out.
“You’re saying... that bomb. I should be dead right now?”
“August 19th, this was it – the countdown, the warning. This was when it happened... today... the bomb.”
“You mean, in his past, I died – today?” The very thought of it made John feel light headed, a distant buzzing growing louder in his ears as he attempted to understand. “In that car explosion? That doesn’t make any sense. I’m not dead, I’m right here... alive.”
“In this event timeline, yes, you are.”
“But not in his?”
Sherlock looked John over, studying him almost as if he were studying a ghost – and in one sense, he was. “That’s why he chose now... that’s why he came back to now.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Because now, this moment, that was when everything was supposed to change. Now was supposed to be when I...” Again, Sherlock’s words faded into nothingness though his thoughts raced on, remaining anything but silent.
“What you what? Turned into a homicidal murderer?”
“When I lost you.” And his eyes fell to the ground, something he vaguely recognised as embarrassment seeping in. The emotion so foreign, like so many others, that it took him a moment to rationalise its existence and purpose. After all, Sherlock had never felt much of a reason to be embarrassed before... and yet, when it came to admitting that he was indeed human and did indeed feel and that yes, occasionally, he did find himself relying upon others, he felt a twinge of embarrassment. After all, he just never realised how much he had come to rely upon John Watson...
It took John a moment to process those words and the facial expression that followed. He stilled and let go of a breath. “Then maybe he came back to change it... to stop it from happening.”
He wasn’t convinced by his words and neither was Sherlock, who gave a slight shake of his head in reply.
“No,” Sherlock went on to say, “that doesn’t fit with his current state of mind. He never meant for you to see him there... he never meant for it not to happen.”
“Then why was he here?”
“To see me... to watch my reaction.”
Time is a strange and complicated thing. But in its simplest form; there is a future, there is a present and there is a past. The future is uncertain, the present is unpredictable, and the past is unchangeable... mostly.
And to change just one thing, the tiniest of things, can have repercussions much larger than the thing itself. The tiniest movement, a slight hesitation... and things can change. A life could be lost, a life could be saved. A bomber could go all but forgotten about as a reason to catch him no longer exists. The focus of revenge changed by the smallest of acts – being in the wrong place at the wrong time, being seen.
Depending on whose mind you were in, this could be a good or a bad thing.
For John Watson, he was alive. For him, that small, almost insignificant hesitation, was a good thing. For him and his future, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities.
For the Sherlock Holmes who stood beside him, the Sherlock Holmes who had not lost is flatmate, his colleague... his friend... it was most definitely a good thing. And so long as no one attempted to change that, it would remain a good thing – for him and for the people in the future (and past) that would have become the victims of a bored and brilliant mind.
But for another Sherlock Holmes, it was an irritation. For him, his past had been changed but he couldn’t see just how much as changing the past changed the future... but he wasn’t in the future anymore. He still lingered in the present, haunting it like a memory of what could have been – and if he had his way, what still would be. Because things had already been changed once, they could be changed again... they could be changed back. As that’s the fragile thing about time, there’s so much of it that the future can easily be changed several times over the course of a few minutes – but this Sherlock Holmes had more than a few minutes to spare.
And as for the bomber, he had his own plans and his own view on how the change of events had affected him.
After staying on at the bomb site for a little longer – John helping out and answering questions, Sherlock keeping his eyes open for his misshapen reflection – they both found themselves at the hospital by early evening. A quick check up for John, which he insisted he didn’t need, and they were ready to go. John just needed to check on one thing first...
“Excuse me,” he said, leaning against the reception desk and looking to the nurse behind it. “I’m looking for a woman, Catherine – she should have been brought in earlier after the bomb attack.”
The nurse played with the keyboard, pulling up any records. “Are you a relative or friend?”
“No, I’m a doctor. I was there with her... I just wanted to make sure she’s okay.”
She paused in her typing and raised her eyes, glasses falling to the tip of her nose, making her resemble an old school mistress who was just a little too strict. “I’m afraid I can’t really give you any information without permission of the family.”
“That’s fine... I’m not asking that. I just want to know if she made it in time...” He offered her his best smile and she shifted in her seat, pushing her glasses back up her nose as she rolled her eyes.
“She’s alive, but that’s all I can tell you. If you want any more information you’ll have to ask her husband.”
“Husband?” He frowned.
“Yes, Mr. Marsden – he’s seated in the waiting area if you want to talk to him.” She hitched her thumb in the direction of the seats. “Short guy, I think, brown coat... greying hair. Bit older than you I reckon.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much for your help, er...” He glanced down, checked her badge, then looked up once more with the same smile. “Sally. Thank you.”
And with that he turned away and Sherlock let out a lengthy sigh beside him.
“There really is no need to follow up,” the detective said, glancing to John briefly. “I’m sure that many of the doctors here are quite capable... though some less than others.”
But John just shook his head. “I’m a doctor... I’ll rest easier knowing I did everything I could to save a life.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “And whether or not you did everything you could depends on whether or not this Catherine will survive?”
“Yes – I mean, no. But... Just, never mind. I’ll just talk to the husband briefly and then we can go.” John’s eyes searched the small waiting area and upon finding a man that looked just as the nurse had described, he changed his direction.
“Ah yes, husband – you appeared surprised when the nurse mentioned husband. Why was that?”
Lowering his voice, John shifted his gaze to Sherlock briefly. The man never switched off, always picking up on every little thing – whether or not it was significant. “Because she wasn’t exactly alone before the bomb blast... but I just probably just read it wrong.”
“Or you read it exactly as it was.” The corner of Sherlock’s lips twitched momentarily, the possibility of a small lasting no longer before the neutral expression returned to his face. “Really, John, I would be disappointed if you hadn’t picked up any observation skills during your time with me.”
But John ignored him and turned his attention to the small man sat hunched over on one of the seats, hands clasped together and arms resting on his legs.
“Mr. Marsden?” he questioned.
The man looked up, eyes wide as he looked back and forth between Sherlock and John. “Yes, that’s me...” Then he frowned. “You’re not one of the doctors... Who are you?”
“I’m John, John Watson and this is Sherlock Holmes. I was there when the bomb went off and I met your wife...”
John never got the chance to finish, the man’s expression changing as he pushed up and stood. “You’re the man who saved Catherine?”
John swallowed. “I just did what I could...”
The man smiled, though his eyes remained empty and his hand cold when it clasped John’s and shook it. “Thank you...” he said, “She’s alive thanks to you. The doctors are still working on her but she’s alive.”
And yet, even as he replayed the short conversation in his mind on the way back to Baker Street, John couldn’t shift the uneasy feeling that had settled in his stomach. He gazed out of the window of the taxi but paid little attention to the London streets beyond and the people that walked it. Sherlock remained silent beside him, lost in his own thoughts and own questionings. Though, no matter where both their thought lines travelled, it seemed to head back to the same place... the thought that, in one timeline, John wouldn’t have been sitting in that taxi with Sherlock.
Inside the flat, John turned the television on just in time to catch the last of a news segment on the bomb attack. A reporter’s voice went over the events briefly, images and footage of the wreck taking up the majority of the screen, before stating how no terrorist groups had come forward, claiming responsibility and that the police were looking into all angles.
“Boring,” Sherlock droned, snatching up the remote to the turn the screen off. Though John knew it was the reminder Sherlock was trying to escape, not the boredom.
John snatched the remote back and turned the news back on. “Maybe so, but I’d like to know why it happened. Don’t you?”
“It is a waste of my time and mental resources. I’m sure the police are capable of handling the matter.” The detective came to stand before the wall collage, eyes wandering over of the puzzle pieces that had been placed up there. “Right now, my attention is best focused on other things.”
And of course, both knew that by other things, Sherlock meant himself – or rather, the other version of himself.
“And how’s that working out for you?” John asked, gazing briefly over at the man.
Sherlock didn’t answer, bringing his hand up to rest against his chin as his thoughts zoomed around his mind, occasionally colliding and creating more chaos amongst the scattered pieces of information.
“Everything up until this point,” Sherlock started after a few drawn out moments during which time the news had ended and the weather was now playing on the television screen, “has essentially been leading up to the events of this morning. The plan... it has all been with the thought that...” He swallowed, uneasy at the notion playing in his mind, but continued on all the same. “The thought you would be dead.”
“Which means what exactly?”
“Which means, this has disturbed his plan. Whatever he was going to do, whatever move he was going to make next... all of that has changed. Unless he gets things back on track.”
“I still don’t understand.” John shifted in his armchair and watched the detective who remained perfectly still, pale blue eyes locked on the wall – almost like a statue frozen in place.
And those pale eyes took everything in. Each marker on the map, each incident and piece of carnage... leading from Haverstock Hill and all the way toward what Sherlock could now see was the final point, the final destination. Baker Street. But now all that had been changed and Sherlock felt himself stiffen at the thought wavering just out of reach... the one he refused to let form fully because really, he was only human and denial was a human trait. But the thought was there, the knowledge that seemed to become more and more certain the longer he stared at the wall.
John was in danger.
A shadow shifted on the street below 221b, hidden by the approaching darkness that came with the thick, grey rainclouds overhead and unnoticed by the sparse crowds that hurried past, eager to make it home before the heavens opened and they were drenched. The first few drops fell, heavy and large, landing on the pavement just before the shadow. He shifted again, his mind made up, his decision thought out, and he drew his phone from his pocket.
237 Haverstock Hill. Come alone. SH. He typed, the screen bright against the dismal backdrop of the street. A drop of water hit the phone and he dabbed it away with his scarf before hitting the send button.
Off in the distance, a low rumble of thunder announced an approaching storm and the shadow slipped the phone back into his pocket. Turning the collar of his coat up against the wind and rain, he set out for his destination with his new plan in mind.
“I tried calling you know,” Sherlock said, tone distracted and dulled as his eyes remained on the wall.
John turned in his seat to look at him, pulled from his own deep musings about the case and about the man that wasn’t Sherlock... and yet was. “Huh?”
“Earlier – I tried calling you,” the detective explained further.
“Ah yes, er...” John dug his hand into his pocket and pulled his phone out, “My battery was dying so I turned it off.”
He held up the phone, showing the blank screen. Sherlock didn’t look. So John huffed out and heaved himself up from the armchair. “I better charge it up while I can,” he continued, but again, Sherlock’s eyes, and attention, remained locked on the wall and puzzle before him.
John waited for a response. Nothing came.
“Right then...” he breathed out, and with a shake of his head, he trudged from the room. It wasn’t long before his phone was charging. The screen lit up, the phone receiving the texts it had been missing. John moved through each one, marking them as read along the way, and slowly became lost in his own thoughts once more.
He remembered what he had said to Sherlock before and stood by his words. The man wasn’t a killer. Whatever had happened to his future self, whatever he had gone through, there had to be something left of the man he once was – the man that stood staring at a wall, figuring out a case, the one who called everyone idiots because they didn’t live up to his standards of intellect, and the man John had come to know as a friend, and in turn, had come to know him as a friend. There had to be something of that left...
Which was why, when John got that final text, he hesitated only long enough to grab his gun and hide it on himself.
The rest was just a matter of getting out of the flat without Sherlock becoming too suspicious, which considering how absorbed the man was in his collage, John figured wouldn’t be a difficult task. He slipped away with only a vague ‘off to see Sarah’ and was out of the door and onto the street before the words had time to vibrate through the empty air of the flat and penetrate Sherlock’s thoughts.
Because John couldn’t give up hope just yet. He couldn’t believe that the man was beyond redemption and couldn’t give up on the belief that some part of the old Sherlock still remained. It was risky and it was dangerous. But he couldn’t give up on Sherlock.
Idiot – a fool or person who engages in an act which may be deemed as not so smart. For example, going to meet a known killer alone with only a gun as your back up and no guarantee that you will actually be able to use it on said killer. John knew this. Of course he did. He just couldn’t decide if that meant he was just being extremely optimistic or if knowing that his actions were stupid made him even more of an idiot for going through with them.
His fingers wrapped around the handle of the gun inside his jacket pocket, providing a false sense of security. Jacket collar turned up against the wind and rain, he made his way toward his destination with the hope that a passing taxi would stop for him. The rain had set in heavy since he had left Baker Street, a gloom coming over London, miserable and wet. John shivered as a drop of rain ran down from his hair and onto his neck, the chill of the wind only serving to worsen the bite of the water.
To him, it still felt somewhat unreal, the idea of going up against another Sherlock... and he knew if it came down to it, he wouldn’t be able to win. Not against Sherlock. But he had no intention of fighting, no intention of testing his wits against a man who would clearly win without even having to try.
He just needed to know if he was right. And if he wasn’t, then he would start thinking about his next move after.
Cars passed by, sending up splashes of water from the puddles that started forming by the side of the road. He moved further away from the side to avoid being hit by the stray splashes. Not that it truly mattered as, with the heavy rain, he was already very nearly soaked to the bone.
He looked up and toward the end of the street where a black cab’s indicator flashed and it turned the corner. The light above declared it vacant and ready for business and as it drew closer, John held out his hand to signal the driver. It pulled up and he crossed the road to get in.
“237 Haverstock Hill,” he directed when he climbed into the back.
It took Sherlock a few moments to realise John had spoken – the realisation dawning shortly after the front door had already slammed shut. He frowned in the direction of the doorway, staring out into the empty hall. Another moment passed before the words arranged themselves amongst Sherlock’s thoughts and his frown deepened.
Off to see Sarah? At a time like this? When they were right on the verge of a breakthrough... As much as Sherlock understood John, he could never quite understand how relationships and being social were more important than solving a case. It was a puzzle he had accepted he may never solve. But still, even with that in mind, something niggled at the back of Sherlock’s mind – an uneasiness that set him on edge. After all, hadn’t John grasped that his life was in danger?
Cursing John for tearing him away from his thoughts, Sherlock pulled his phone from his pocket and dialled the ever familiar number. It rang, several times, then was diverted to voicemail. He tried again, but after the sixth or so ring that time, he pulled the phone away from his ear and listened to the silence in the flat. It was broken only by the low ringing from his handset and by the distant chime of another phone.
With lengthy strides, he left the room and climbed the stairs up to John’s room. His phone still rang and the chiming became louder the closer he got. As he pushed the door open, voicemail picked up once more and the chiming stopped. The display of John’s phone still lit up the room though, sitting on the desk with a cable sticking out of the bottom of it.
The niggling feeling at the back of Sherlock’s mind grew and he crossed the room. Picking up the phone, he unlocked the screen and found himself looking at the message screen. The last message, the newest, from him... except that he knew he hadn’t sent it which meant it had come from the other him.
“So soon?” he questioned the empty air, a light growl finding its way into his voice.
He had expected him to make a move. He had expected him to go after John. But he had thought he would have more time to figure things out before that happened.
Without truly thinking about his actions, he was leaving the room and headed downstairs once more. He grabbed his scarf and wrapped it loosely around his neck before reaching for his coat and pulling that on too. He was down at the front door and tugging it open before he even had a chance to fasten his coat, only one thing on his mind. Getting to John before the other him could.
A taxi approached, wipers swiping furiously at the continuous downpour of rain, and he moved out, grabbing the driver’s attention before he could drive past. He gave the driver the address and settled into the back seat, knee bouncing up and down as he glared out across the streets of London through the rain blurred windows.
Given the amount of time that had passed, Sherlock hoped he could make it in time. Though that hope began to dwindle more and more as the taxi moved into heavy traffic.
“What were you thinking, John?” he asked under his breath, his hand forming a fist over his knee before raising his eyes to the driver and speaking up. “How much longer before we get there?”
“Couldn’t say... there was an accident earlier further up on the A41 so that’s slowing everything down.”
Sherlock returned his gaze to the window and the street beyond. “I’ll pay you double if you can get me there in under ten minutes.”
The heavy rain had turned to drizzle when the taxi pulled up outside of 237 Haverstock Hill – the property abandoned, signs of disrepair showing clearly from the outside. Boarded up windows, rusted metal railings with a small scrap of police tape still attached to it. John imagined that the insides wouldn’t look much better. In fact, he knew they wouldn’t. He had seen the crime scene photos after all and the sight had been far from pretty.
“Are you sure this is the right address?” the driver questioned.
John nodded and pulled his wallet out. “I’m sure.”
The driver simply shrugged. “Whatever you say, mate. But you understand I won’t be hanging around.”
John didn’t reply. He tugged a note a note free from his wallet and passed it to the driver, already making movements to climb from the car.
“Your change, mate,” the driver called, twisting in his seat to face John, his features draped in shadow, only the greying of his hair visible from the faint glow of the streetlights.
But John paid little attention and shook his head, opening the door. “Keep it.”
With that, he clambered out and shut the door behind him, his eyes on the house up ahead. He approached with care, wary of what he would find. When the taxi pulled away, it left silence in its wake and the silence continued on into the house. The type of empty silence that caused footsteps to echo and floorboards to creak loudly.
“I’m here,” he called, breaking the silence. When no one replied, he moved further into the house and tried again. “You told me to come and I’m here.”
“Yes, you are,” a familiar voice drawled from behind him.
He turned to face the man, eyes landing on that familiar coat, that familiar posture and face, and that unfamiliar malice laced in those pale blue eyes.
“Well?” John asked, body stiffening and hand wrapping tighter around the gun in his pocket.
“I must admit,” the man before him went on, taking a step closer, a glint of metal in his hands – a gun. “I’m surprised you came... and all by yourself too.”
“Why wouldn’t I? You asked me to.” John gritted his teeth into a tight smile.
He laughed, a low, dry chuckle that vibrated around the room. “You always did try to see the best in me, John, but I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Surely even you realise why I called you here.”
John looked at him and swallowed. He knew. But that didn’t mean he had to accept it. It didn’t mean he had to give up on him... on Sherlock. “Sherlock, please...”
But Sherlock ignored him, stepping further into the room and circling around John, eyes down and on the gun in his hands. “I would have thought that after all this time, you would have learned.”
“Sherlock, this isn’t you. This isn’t the man you are.”
“You’re wrong, John. This is exactly the man I am. High-functioning sociopath, remember?”
“Exactly. Sociopath, not psychopath.”
A twisted smile crept across Sherlock’s face and he raised his eyes to consider John. “I’m not sure the others would agree that there’s much of a difference. Just ask Anderson or Donavon and I’m sure they’ll tell you it was only a matter of time.”
“What happened to you? What made you change so much?”
“I’ve always been like this, John. You were just blinded by your good intentions. Just like you are now.” He raised the gun in his hand, aiming it toward John’s chest. “I could kill you, right now, and you would be unable to stop me. Oh, I know about the gun in your pocket that you keep fingering like it’s some kind of safety blanket. But even if you did pull it out, even if you did aim it my way, would you be able to pull the trigger?”
John tightened his grip once more on his gun as Sherlock mentioned it, his jaw clenching further and shoulders squaring from the tension building up inside of him. His eyes never left Sherlock.
“Would you be able to kill me, John?”
“I didn’t come here to kill you.”
“Oh? And why did you come here?”
“To talk to you... to try and talk some sense into you – get you to see the real you. The man you were before...”
“You’re a fool, John. You’re wasting your time thinking that talking to me would change my mind. You see, I’ve already made my mind up. I’ve already chosen the path I’m on. Now, I just have to secure my future... make sure that everything goes according to plan.”
“And how do you plan on doing that?”
The twisted smile grew. “By killing you of course. Once I do that, everything will return to how it was meant to be and I will return to my game.”
“You don’t want that... Sherlock, please. Listen to me. This really, really, isn’t you. Anderson, Donavon... they’re wrong. They don’t know you at all. You’re not a murderer, Sherlock.”
Sherlock snorted and knocked the safety off the gun, readjusting the aim. “From this distance, I could kill you instantly. You would be dead before you hit the ground.”
The gun was steady, the aim direct. John’s heart pounded, the blood rushing through his veins so hard he could hear it in his ears. It drowned out the silence of the house and emphasised the distant and faded cacophony of shouts and gunfire that existed only as a memory inside John’s head.
“Sherlock,” he murmured, a final, desperate plea to the man before him.
Sherlock let go of a short, frustrated growl and turned his head to the side. He said nothing, arm still raised and gun still aimed. John took it as a sign to continue. He stepped forward, toward Sherlock, one hand still buried in his pocket, though his grip had since loosened around his own gun.
“Sherlock,” he tried again, more confidence to his words this time.
But Sherlock snapped his head round to look at him once more, gaze so intense it felt as if he were staring through John. His grip readjusted on the gun, fingers flexing. “Don’t move,” he instructed, a harsh bite to each word.
John didn’t. Not at first. But then he heard the shuffle of feet behind him and realised that Sherlock’s gaze had shifted to whoever the shuffling belonged to. Pale blue eyes took on a deadly look, a sneer falling into place on Sherlock’s face, malicious and cold. And so John turned, half expecting to find another set of pale blue eyes and a Belstaff coat. But he found neither.
At the doorway, a short man with greying hair stood. For a moment, the familiarity evaded John but as it slowly slipped back, a frown formed on John’s features, confusion etched there.
“Mr Marsden?” he questioned, recalling the hospital and short talk with the man before him.
Yet, even though he knew who the man was and why he looked so familiar, it didn’t help his confusion, his mind questioning just why the man was there, in that abandoned house. Until he saw the ID hanging around the man’s neck, a photo and number declaring him as a taxi driver and John realised that it had been him, Marsden, who had dropped John off outside.
“You were the taxi driver?” he questioned further, but he got no reply.
“It’s been awhile,” Sherlock drawled, the words drawn out, lazy and slow. A flash of recognition lit up his eyes and he moved his arm enough so that the gun was now aimed at the man.
“You’re his friend from the hospital, aren’t you?” Marsden questioned, before scoffing. “Unlucky sod...”
Sherlock smiled, a knowing smile, and nodded his head lightly. “Of course, we haven’t really met properly in this timeline yet, have we?” And then he flexed his finger on the trigger and continued. “If we had, you would already be dead.”
“Dead...?” John looked between the two men, feeling very much trapped in the eye of the storm. A slow and steady silence before everything kicked off.
“Mr Marsden here,” Sherlock supplied as explanation, “attempted to murder his wife and brother. I believe they were having an affair, weren’t they?”
Marsden scoffed once more. “They’d been playing at it for years. But when I find out they had spent the morning of my wedding together... that was the last straw.”
“In my timeline, he succeeded in killing both...” Sherlock continued glancing to John briefly before adjusting his gaze once more to fix on Marsden. “Along with someone else. Someone who was a very dear friend to me.”
It was in that moment, as the words echoed around the room, that John felt a glimmer of hope. As much as the man declared he was no longer the same Sherlock, John hung onto the thought that he was. He had just become lost in darkness and John just had to show him the way out... he hoped.
Marsden laughed, a small hysterical laugh as he shook his head and looked between John and Sherlock before settling on the latter, eyes wide. “What the hell are you talking about? Catherine is alive! Your friend saw to that. He ruined everything.”
To Sherlock, it was no surprise to hear these words, but to John who had seen the man nervously waiting at the hospital for news on his wife, it felt like a cold revelation. It had all been an act. Marsden had only been playing the part of the worried husband. How the man acted now compared to then, was so different. It reminded John of another ‘actor’ who had fooled both him and Sherlock upon their first meeting.
John looked at the man, took in his entirety, including the red canister in his hand. That was when he noticed the smell in the air. Petrol. Sherlock had noticed it too. He had made the connection as soon as he had seen the canister.
“So you thought you would pay him back?” Sherlock asked. “I imagine seeing him in the back of your taxi was too tempting an opportunity to give up.”
A darkened smile twisted at Marsden’s lips. “I nearly drove away. I got as far as the end of the street but I couldn’t do it. Then I remembered I still had this,” he waved the canister a little, the petrol sloshing about inside, “in the back of the cab.”
In one direction stood a man with a gun, the man that had called John there to die. And in the other direction was a second man who apparently wanted to burn him. John was stuck in the middle of them and though he knew it was useless, he found himself gripping the gun in his pocket tightly. But it gave him little reassurance. After all, he wouldn’t be able to shoot Sherlock and, depending on Sherlock’s frame of mind, he wouldn’t be able to get a shot off at Marsden without Sherlock doing something. He could only watch as Marsden unscrewed the lid of the canister and jerked the can, petrol splashing out toward John.
He jumped back, out of the way, eyes still on the man as the canister was tossed to the side, still a quarter full.
Neither Sherlock nor John could look away as Marsden reached into his jacket and pulled out a small matchbox. The sinister smile still firmly in place. Before he could light a match though, Sherlock’s finger tightened on the trigger and a shot rang out. It hit Marsden in the arm and the man fell to his knees cursing and screaming at the pain.
“Why?” John asked, finally tearing his gaze away from Marsden to look at Sherlock. “I thought you wanted me dead.”
Sherlock scoffed and though his words were sharp, his eyes had softened somewhat. “I’ve decided... I’m the only one who gets to kill you.”
A small smile played at the corner of John’s lips and he couldn’t help the thought that maybe, just maybe, he had gotten through to Sherlock. It was all short lived though, the moment ended by a sudden rush of a heat behind.
John spun on the spot to see that Marsden had managed to light a match despite his new injury, fire spreading quickly across the petrol. It reached back into the hallway, which John assumed Marsden had already coated in petrol, and crept into the room, clawing at the wooden floor and making slow progress toward the petrol canister off to the side.
Marsden laughed, cold and harsh, but it didn’t last. It soon turned to a scream as the fire engulfed his leg and climbed higher. He struggled to his feet but fell back down and into the fire behind before he could get too far. John didn’t get to see what happened after that, a strong hand on his shoulder dragging him backwards and into another room, a kitchen by the look of it, away from the fire.
“The windows are boarded up,” Sherlock growled, the words reminding John of how the house had looked from the outside. The only way in had been the front door.
“What about the back door?” John asked, moving forward toward said door only to find it locked and boarded up also. His stomach twisted and a thought flashed across his mind of how he hadn’t gone there to die and yet it seemed it was going to happen anyway.
Sherlock busied himself at the kitchen sink, playing with the taps, testing them. When water trickled and then gushed out, he pulled his jacket off and stuck it into the sink beneath the taps. He left them running, abandoning his coat as he continued on, opening cupboard doors and searching inside each until finally he came to one which held something of use. A fire extinguisher.
“This will have to do,” he said, grabbing the extinguisher and his jacket from the sink.
“What are you planning?” John asked, and for the briefest moment he forgot that the man before him was a Sherlock Holmes from the future, everything seeming to fall into place just as they always did – a pattern John had become familiar with.
Sherlock didn’t answer him, striding past and out into the main room once more. John followed, trailing behind.
The fire had spread further since their short time in the kitchen, moving closer and closer to the canister. Both knew it wouldn’t be good news if they were still there when it reached it. But Sherlock’s each movement was purposeful. He moved toward the doorway and doused the flames with the extinguisher. They died down a little, enough to create an exit.
Extinguisher empty, he tossed it backward and pulled his coat from under his arm. In one swift movement, he slipped it around John’s shoulders before John could even think to complain or ask what the hell he was doing. In the next moment, when John was finally regaining his voice and attempting to question him, it was too late and Sherlock was pushing him forward, through the doorway and toward the exit.
He kept pushing until John’s feet moved of their own accord and he focused his attention on escaping. Then Sherlock’s hand disappeared from his back and John found himself stopping at turning to see what had happened.
A burnt mess lay on the floor, Marsden’s face almost unrecognisable, the man’s hands wrapped tight around Sherlock’s ankle, holding him in place. Sherlock looked to John, determination lining his features.
“Go!” he ordered, waving his arm toward the exit now in sight.
But John hesitated so Sherlock shouted once more.
“Go now or I’ll kill you myself!”
The threat was empty but the desperation behind the words wasn’t. With a nod, John spun on the spot and rushed forward and out of the burning house. He made it all the way to the gate before he stopped and turned to watch the flames.
“Come on, Sherlock,” he muttered, waiting, hoping for Sherlock to deal with Marsden and follow him out. “Please...”
But not matter how much he hoped and begged, it was too late. The fire reached the canister and everything instantly got worse.
John could only stare at the flames as they spread and flicked and jumped about, his head spinning and eyes entranced. It wasn’t until he felt a pair of hands dragging him around and away from the house and heard what sounded at first like a distant shout, that his mind began to steady and right itself once more.
“John! John!” the distant shout called, becoming louder each time until John’s vision cleared and he found himself looking into pale blue eyes creased with worry. “What happened? Are you hurt?”
“Sherlock,” John breathed out.
“What happened?” Sherlock questioned once more, his grip tight on John’s arms, refusing to let go.
John shook his head and looked back to the house. All he could say in reply was: “He’s dead...”
Two weeks passed by. Sherlock had spent two days of it in a sulk with John for ‘being an idiot’, which had started right when they had both returned to 221b Baker Street. By the third day, Sherlock had spoken long enough to make John promise not to be that much of an idiot again and by the fifth day, he was dragging John out of the house on a new and interesting case.
Over the short time, John had explained everything to Sherlock and the pair had supplied the police with all the knowledge they needed to know – which in the end consisted of information on Marsden and his crimes. The other murders went unsolved, though Lestrade never questioned why Sherlock had decided to ‘give up’ on the investigation. If he had his suspicions, they went unsaid.
And so it was exactly two weeks later. John stood at the entrance to 237 Haverstock Hill and Sherlock waited at the gate. He hadn’t argued when John had said that was where he was going but he had insisted he go along. And so he waited. He waited as John laid a slightly dirty and burnt at the edges Belstaff coat at the entrance to the house and he waited as John said goodbye.
Then, as John returned to the street, Sherlock led the way, only pausing when he heard John’s footsteps also pause.
He turned and frowned, following John’s gaze across the street.
“What is it?” he asked.
John smiled and shook his head, turning away and catching up with Sherlock. “It’s nothing... I just thought I saw...” His words trailed away.
“Saw what?” Sherlock questioned after a beat or two.
John snorted and looked down at the path as they both began walking once more, small smile still on his lips. “Nothing...” he breathed out. “Nothing at all.”
Time is complicated. The future is uncertain, the present is unpredictable and the past is unchangeable... mostly. And as Sherlock continued down the street, glancing briefly back to the spot John had been staring at, he was glad for that ‘mostly’.
“Sherlock Holmes is a great man. And I think one day, if we’re very, very lucky, he might even be a good one.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to read!